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Air India renaissance – why it means so much for India

Airlines play an oversized role in the economy of undersized countries. A good example is Singapore. A tiny red dot as it is sometimes called, its airline is globally popular, sets standards in operational efficiency, profits and services and provides thousands of well-paying jobs. But all that fades into insignificance when you consider the benefits to the local economy – in terms of attracting tourists, encouraging stopovers, providing cargo services and others. The business it drags in benefits so many others – couriers, logistics companies, catering and so on.

And the Singapore government, knowing this, actively supports the airline even spending billions of dollars to keep it going during the COVID years when the lack of a domestic market nearly floored it. It was sad to see the famed SQ girls serving in bars and restaurants, with reduced wages and forced leave. Of course, many flocked to such places exactly for that! Many years ago, when its pilot’s union tried to play tough, its no-nonsense PM, Lee Kuan Yew interfered and taught them a lesson they haven’t forgotten since. Look it up sometime. He knew the airline can make or wreck the Singapore story.

Even for large countries, the aviation sector plays a very critical role with positive as well as negative effects on a whole range of areas. The US was an early pioneer. China is an aviation giant and far ahead of us. Even without counting Cathay, they have two or three huge airlines with over 500 planes each. Mind you, their railways too is far more developed with dozens of bullet train routes across the entire country whereas we need Rihanna and NYT Editorial board’s kind approval and bear with snide remarks from every media crook to run one line, not to speak of PILs.

Obviously, this is not some sort of economic secret I have unearthed, it is common sense. But this common sense is exactly what was and in many ways is missing in India. Air India and its sibling IA were run to suit the fancies of its militant and pampered employee and pilot union, with the interests of the passengers or the nation coming a distant second, if at all considered. I remember the days when it was a monopoly and strikes used to be organised just before each peak season to extract maximum from spineless aviation ministers.


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