OPINION: Hopes jettisoned

NEW DELHI (The Statesman/ANN)- In the hard-hearted world of commerce there is small scope for miracles. 

A least not in the avatar that had made it a leader in private aviation: with an international reputation to boot. After riding the boom in domestic aviation, the carrier has virtually gone bust since the beginning of 2019, with its operations having ceased for over a month now.

And only a section of government-owned bank managers, accustomed as they are to playing with “people’s money”, still hope that by scraping the bottom of the barrel the Rs 8,000 crore ~ probably considerably more if unpaid bills for fuel and airport user-charges are added ~ needed to resurrect the airline will become available.

Most professionals deem Jet to have gone the way of Kingfisher, East-West, Modiluft etc. And suspect that now that the elections are all but over, and a high-profile collapse would no longer exacerbate the unemployment fire, the curtain would finally drop. For the reality is that there is little to sell to any potential investor.

The major share of any carrier’s assets, its aircraft, have been taken back by those who had leased them, so too “gone” are its slots on schedules and airports, top executives have quit, even commercial space hired for offices has had to be vacated… The shut-down of Jet merits a multi-faceted probe. It would be over-simplistic to blame the trouble on an ambitious promoter following an unsustainable business model.

The possibility of political protection opens an entirely different can of worms. The role of public sector banks needs special scrutiny, when the NDA government accuses its predecessor of allowing banks to run up huge nonperforming assets how could Jet accumulate such massive debts? Why, non-payment of an installment of a car-loan brings “recovery-goons” to the door.

Something smells fishy somewhere. Alas, the financial watchdogs have looked elsewhere while a 25-year-old organisation has collapsed for want of money, even after its promoter had been pressured to pull out. It would be foolish to merely see Jet as having followed Kingfisher on the flight-path to ruin, and a personality-focused witch-hunt is not an answer.

Nor is an excessive concern for the staff of a privately owned outfit that rode high when the going was good but now cries “foul”. There have to be fundamental flaws in the governance of the aviation sector ~ high fuel prices, exorbitant airport charges, a “social burden” etc ~ that result in a glaring mismatch between growth-potential and profitability of airline operators.

Jet and Kingfisher are not the only flop-shows, even the public-sector Air- India is surviving on government bail-outs. A professionally- oriented “commission” is required to examine all aspects of commercial aviation ~ not leave the sector subject to political and bureaucratic whims.


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