Air India Chairman and Managing Director, Ashwani Lohani explains that people are the key if the airline is to deliver on its strategy for growth

With the Indian aviation market set to be among the largest in the world, Air India has an extraordinary opportunity on its doorstep. But the carrier must overcome its legacy infrastructure and debt burden to realize a nimble decision-making process.

What are your plans for the airline over the next couple of years?

The aim is to make sure Air India realizes its full potential. In terms of infrastructure, fleet, routes, facilities and, above all, efficient and dedicated human resources, Air India has a tremendous inherent strength that is way ahead of most airlines. We have to make optimum use of these positives and bring the best out of every employee by inspiring him or her to adopt a disciplined work culture and walk that extra mile for the sake of the organization.

I have already identified a few areas for immediate improvements as a first step toward turning around the company through enhanced productivity. Every employee should make themselves aware of the financial targets of the company and work with a zeal to achieve the same.

We have to effect immediate improvements in the punctuality of our flights, for example. I am also taking steps to make the maximum number of aircraft available and to enhance the load factor. And I have emphasized the need for immediate improvement in every area of our service, especially inflight service and catering.

The overall streamlining of management and enhancing productivity are the key factors. We would also like to have a planned expansion on profitable routes on the one hand with a robust linking of tier two and tier three cities in sync with the Connect India mission on the other.

Of course, we do have some critical legacy issues, the most important being the debt burden, which also needs to be addressed. All my plans are directed towards making Air India a profitable and first choice airline.

How can you make the brand more attractive for domestic and international travelers?

I feel the brand is already an attractive and well-established one. We want the Air India brand to be perceived as an international brand with strong Indian roots and global scales.

We are proud of our identity and heritage. Generations of air travelers in India and overseas have made Air India their airline of choice. The endearing Maharajah, the airline’s mascot, is symbolic of a service brand that has endured and grown. We are constantly endeavoring to make it more vibrant, highlighting our product, services and positives at every platform to further enhance our brand image.

Being a state-owned airline can be challenging at times but if we have a steady focus and work steadfastly towards achieving our goals, I have no doubt we can provide good competition and even outsmart other airlines

Can a state-owned airline be nimble enough to compete in today’s dynamic aviation market?

It can be challenging at times but if we have a steady focus and work steadfastly towards achieving our goals, I have no doubt we can provide good competition and even outsmart other airlines. From a leadership perspective,
it means improving the decision-making process, as well as taking decisions based on gut feel at times.

From the employees’ perspective, I believe workers are true driving forces in any organization and if they are happy and the morale is high, the organization can scale new heights.

I would like to mention here about our non-stop operation from New Delhi to San Francisco, which was one of the longest flights of Air India. It was successful despite criticism and doubts.

How important are the environment and sustainable fuels to your strategy?

Environmental issues are foremost in our overall operations. We are continuously developing initiatives to increase the efficiency of our fleet and reduce fuel consumption and CO2 emissions. These green measures have significantly improved our environmental performance indicators.

The new Airbus A320neo engines burn 20% less fuel as does the Boeing 787 Dreamliners. And we are constantly making our employees aware of the need to support the global effort to safeguard the environment and doing our best to adopt environmentally-friendly industry practices.

Are you happy with the infrastructure in India and the charges for using that infrastructure?

The government has been doing its best to strengthen and expand civil aviation infrastructure in our country.

The development and opening of functional airports, maintenance, repairs and overhaul facilities, and most importantly the emphasis on air-linking smaller cities in remote areas with metropolitan hubs has brought about a marked improvement in our aviation infrastructure.

Key amendments to aviation legislation and passenger-friendly measures without compromising on the interests of the organization will also be a fillip to the growth story of civil aviation in India.

1932 : Air India was founded in 1932 as Tata Airlines

125 aircraft make up the Air India fleet

94 destinations served by Air India across four continents

27th Air India became the Star Alliance’s 27th full member in July 2014

What other challenges and opportunities do you see for Indian aviation?

As we have seen with the struggles of many Indian airlines, the high operational cost in India is a real challenge.

But any situation has its own share of challenges and opportunities. It depends on the airlines to accept and overcome the challenges and make maximum use of the opportunities available to boost the civil aviation sector
in general.

Flying was once limited to the privileged, but it has become a part of life for the ordinary man today. The government and the industry has taken steps to make flying affordable, accessible and comfortable. With the thrust on regional connectivity, the suggested capping of fares and a slew of other pro-passenger measures, air travel is now for everybody.

An airline will have to adjust its operations and pricing in sync with the exponential growth of civil aviation in our country. At the same time, the finest luxuries and comfort will have to be offered to premium passengers.

Do you think aviation does a good job for passengers with reduced mobility (PRMs)?

Every airline tries to improve its services for differently-abled passengers. Air India does not refuse transportation to any individual on the basis of a disability. In our commitment to make a passenger’s flight as comfortable as possible, we provide pre-travel assistance, a wheelchair or other mobility assistance to help any passenger through the airport. We also provide inflight assistance and do our best to assign a passenger with special needs a seat that is best suited to his or her needs.

An airline will have to adjust its operations and pricing in sync with the exponential growth of civil aviation in our country, but we still have to offer the finest luxuries and comfort to premium passengers

If you could change one thing in aviation tomorrow, what would it be and why?

The extremely low profit margin in airline business!