Air India’s chief executive hails the biggest turnaround effort in airline history

Air India’s chief executive stated that the airline is embarking upon the largest turnaround effort in airline history. He also outlined plans to make India the next major aviation hub after a large order for new aircraft.

Campbell Wilson stated that he hopes to restore the airline, which was recently privatized, to the “upper ranks” of global aviation through an overhaul of Tata Sons.

Wilson is attempting to rebuild an airline that was bleeding $2.4mn per day. He is also upgrading a fleet of old-fashioned aircrafts and running on the most outdated information technology in the sector.

It’s definitely the largest aviation turnaround that I know of. . . “I don’t believe there has been anything like it before.”

Tata, an industrial group, bought the national carrier from the state in 2021 after a $2.4bn bidding. Last year, Tata began a five-year turnaround programme codenamed .AI was a Sanskrit term that means “dawn for a new age” and aimed to transform the brand after nearly 70 years of being in state control.

The airline announced its global ambitions last month with an order of 470 aircraft from Boeing and Airbus, making it one of the largest such purchases.

The airline is looking for pilots and staff to join its ranks and will be offering services to help India’s population and economy grow. Many Indians travel via the Gulf to India every year.

Wilson stated that he would triple the number of passengers and eventually challenge Gulf airport hubs like Dubai and Qatar in layover traffic.

Tata is also applying for regulatory approval to merge Vistara (its airline joint venture with Singapore Airlines) into Air India. Singapore Airlines will invest approximately $250mn in Air India as part of the merger. This gives it a 25.1 percent stake.

Air India will also integrate its Air Asia Express, Air Asia India and Air Asia Express into one carrier.

Wilson could not predict when the carrier would make a profit but pointed out that there was “so many low-hanging fruits” for revenue growth and cost reductions, such as modernising basic functions like scheduling and fuel contracts, frequent flyer program, and insurance contracts.

He stated that the airline was the first to abandon an outdated reservation system and that the airline had not hired any IT workers since 2007.

Air India’s new owners are investing heavily in IT, in an area where many of the processes were previously manual. They also plan to install new seats and inflight systems within its fleet.

Wilson stated that he didn’t “want” to make a bad impression of the previous airline leaders. He said they were limited by bureaucracies under public ownership.

They kept it going. They kept it going for long enough to sell it.”

International observers are questioning whether this turnaround is possible given the long history of Indian carriers’ inability to compete on the global stage.

Ryanair chief executive Michael O’Leary questioned whether Air India would ever “ever take all those planes”.

“The history Indian aviation has been boom, bust and boom, boom, bust.”

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