“We are looking at another timeline now, what is called data room for prospective bidders to look at … that is opened up, 64 days for the financial bids to come in. After that it is the question of taking a decision and handing over the airline,” the minister of state for civil aviation said at the Times Network India Economic Conclave.
AI divestment, including handing over to the new owner, is targeted be completed by the year-end — something delayed by the pandemic.
The minister also said that the second wave of Covid infection has delayed airlines being allowed to operate 100% of their pre-Covid domestic flights by 15 to 20 days, that was planned to happen from the start of summer schedule this month-end.
The second wave has led to many states seeking Covid negative reports on arrival from domestic flyers that had led to doubts about travelling in the minds many people planning a holiday. Then several flyers had been violating Covid-time norms during air travel.
“I asked the DGCA to crack the whip on those not wearing masks or observing social distancing. These people will be offloaded and action will be taken under relevant sections (no fly rules for unruly flyers),” Puri said.
On Air India, the minister again warned there is “no choice” but to privatise the airline as the only other option is to close it down.
“Due to (decades of) mismanagement, AI’s cumulative debt is Rs 60,000 crore. Even servicing that is a massive task. While I have cut the operating cost of AI by Rs 1,500 crore annually through several measures but despite that the daily loss is Rs 20 crore. We will keep it running till it gets a new owner,” Puri said.
“Al former aviation minister and secretaries were entitled to free travel on AI. Retired (AI) employees used to get 20 free tickets (annually). I have stopped all that,” he said.
Now within 64 days financial bids have to be submitted and AI will remain a national asset albeit under a new owner. “The new owners of the airline will be able to run the airlines with a management that knows how to run an airline and by not repeating the mistakes made in the past. AI is and will remain a national asset,” he said.
The minister said one group (Adani) getting all the six Airports Authority of India (AAI) airports privatised during this government. “That process happened through an open and transparent bidding process. The party that bid the highest, in terms of revenue share with AAI on per passenger basis, got the groups,” he said. Now more airports are going to be privatised.