Govt says all options open for Air India revival

New Delhi: All possible alternatives are being considered to make Air India viable, the Civil Aviation Ministry said today, even as it asserted that the clock cannot be put back on the Indian Airlines merger.

Days after Finance Minister Arun Jaitley pitched for Air India’s disinvestment, Civil Aviation Minister Ashok Gajapathi Raju said no option has been closed for the airline.

“NITI Aayog has made recommendations for making Air India strong and viable. All courses of action are being examined.

We have not closed any option,” Raju told reporters here.

Asserting that the government is proud of Air India, Raju said the ministry would cooperate with the CBI in respect of cases related to alleged irregularities at the airline in the past.

Air India, which is surviving on a Rs 30,000 crore bail- out package spread over 10 years announced by the Manmohan Singh government in 2012, is working on ways to improve its financial position.

In 2015-16, the airline posted operational profit of Rs 105 crore on account of low fuel prices and increased passenger numbers.

Minister of State for Civil Aviation Jayant Sinha said whatever that would be done for Air India will be in national interest.

“We are considering all possible alternatives (for Air India)… We are discussing (what can be) the winning strategy for the airline,” Sinha said.

Asked about Air India and Indian Airlines merger that happened in 2007, which is seen as a reason for the problems of the national carrier, Raju said the clock cannot be put back on the deal.

The CBI has decided to probe the controversial merger besides alleged irregularities in purchase and lease of aircraft by the two state-run carriers under the UPA government which caused “huge” losses to the exchequer.

The probe agency has registered three FIRs and a preliminary enquiry (PE) to go into the controversial decisions made by the erstwhile UPA government with regard to the carriers, including surrender of profitable routes to favour private airlines.

The cases have been registered against unidentified officials of Air India, Ministry of Civil Aviation and others under charges of criminal conspiracy, cheating and corruption, CBI spokesperson R K Gaur said on Monday.

The CAG had in 2011 questioned the rationale behind the government’s decision to order 111 airplanes for AI and Indian Airlines — 48 from Airbus and 68 from Boeing — for about Rs 70,000 crore in 2006.