'Will fight till skies to keep Air India flying'

Will fight till skies to keep Air India flying and stop its sale: Parliament panel to chief Rajiv Bansal

The MPs questioned Civil Aviation Secretary P S Kharola on whether it is feasible to sell Air India at a time when aviation sector is witnessing major disruption across the world due to coronavirus, the sources said.

As Air India flights evacuated hundreds of Indians from abroad amid coronavirus pandemic, several members of a parliamentary panel on Wednesday commended Air India chief Rajiv Bansal, telling him that they stand with the airline and "will fight till the skies to keep it flying" and stop its sale, sources said.

The MPs questioned Civil Aviation Secretary P S Kharola on whether it is feasible to sell Air India at a time when aviation sector is witnessing major disruption across the world due to coronavirus, the sources said.

"Several MPs told Air India Chief Rajiv Bansal, who also attended the meeting of Parliamentary Standing Committee on Transport, Tourism and Culture, that they stand with the airline and will fight till the skies to keep it flying and stop the sale of national carrier," the sources said.

The members commended the airline and its staff for evacuating Indians from abroad in time of need, like during the time of the pandemic.

The government on March 13 had extended the deadline for submitting bids to buy state-run Air India by about one-and-a-half months till April 30, citing demand from interested bidders (IBs) and situation arising out of the pandemic.

One of the TMC MPs, who is part of the parliamentary panel, said that it is only Air India and its staff that comes forward to rescue Indians from abroad during crucial times, according to sources.

They added that the civil aviation secretary was asked if any assessment was being made about the losses the aviation sector would face due to the pandemic and if there would be any bailout package for the aviation industry.

Kharola, who made a detailed presentation to the committee on aviation sector, told the members that according to global aviation consultancy firm CAPA, many airlines would go bankrupt by May-end, the sources stated.

However, the secretary did not comment whether any bailout package was being considered, the sources noted.

The secretary told the committee that aviation traffic was witnessing a dip of 24 per cent in Asia Pacific region, the sources noted.

According to sources, the MPs told the secretary that face towels, which are given to the passengers in premium economy and business class, should be stopped on planes.

Moreover, all passengers should be provided with masks, the MPs told the secretary, as per the sources.

"Raising the issue of GoAir sending their staff on leave without salary, a few members said this should not have happened and the government should solve the bigger issues rather than issuing just advisories," the sources said.

Budget carrier GoAir had on Tuesday announced suspending international operations and offering leave without pay programme for its staff on a rotational basis, amid "unprecedented" decline in air travel due to the coronavirus pandemic.

On Wednesday, GoAir said it has terminated contracts of expat pilots.

After the committee meeting on Wednesday, its chairman TG Venkatesh told PTI said all those who travelled in last two months should be checked for coronavirus and analysed.

Former Air India chief Ashwani Lohani was also present during the meeting of this committee.

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