Sample this: One of AI’s Airbus has been grounded in Vadodara for almost a week as its requires engine replacement. The Maharaja has a spare engine for this single aisle aircraft in Delhi but is unable to send it as it can’t raise the e-way bill because of GST dues. “Our GST dues are about Rs 100 crore and because of that the paperwork required to send the engine to Vadodara is not being done,” said a senior official.
The airline hopes to pay the GST dues on Thursday, along with salary to employees. “We have raised the cash to pay for these things from our ticket sales. Hopefully we will be able to send the engine to Vadodara once some GST dues are paid Thursday and then we raise the e-way bill required for that shipment,” said the official.
Amid a life-threatening fund crunch, AI and the government are trying to restore faith among flyers to book tickets. Last November, aviation minister H S Puri said in Parliament that AI “would have to be closed down if not privatised.” After that, the airline saw a sharp dip in advance bookings. “On a year-on-year basis, we have witnessed 10-15% drop in advance bookings,” said a person in the know.
In the past few days, the government has been trying to assure passengers that AI will keep flying till it is sold off. “MoCA (ministry of civil aviation) reiterates that the government, while going ahead with the disinvestment, would ensure that AI continues to operate uninterruptedly and improves its operations also. There is no cause for worry to any of its stakeholders,” the ministry tweeted on Tuesday to allay concerns of both travellers and the airline’s unpaid employees.
Before this, AI chairman Ashwani Lohani — who has informed the government about the airline’s frail financial health — had tweeted on January 4: “Rumours regarding AI shutting down or closing operations are all baseless. AI would continue to fly and also expand and there should be no cause for concern whatsoever to travellers, corporates or agents. AI, the national carrier, is still the biggest airline of India.” After these assurances, the dip in bookings has ebbed.