State-run Air India working to contain costs

BENGALURU (Reuters) – State-run airline Air India Ltd said on Thursday it was working to contain costs by reducing debt, aircraft lease rentals, as well as staffing and operating expenses.

Air India wants to reduce its dependence on the exchequer for funds, chairman and managing director Rajiv Bansal added, speaking at a press conference held on Thursday by India’s civil aviation ministry.

The Indian government in January renewed its push to sell its entire interest in the loss-making airline, which has been kept aloft by a $4.2 billion 10-year bailout in 2012.

Civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri said India would persist with the privatisation of Air India. The Economic Times newspaper last month reported the government had extended the deadline to bid for the carrier until Aug 31.

Following coronavirus-related restrictions, India allowed airlines to resume flights in May, but on domestic routes only and at one-third capacity. The country’s aviation regulator earlier this month extended restrictions for international passenger services until July 31.

Indian airlines have, however, been operating rescue flights to bring back stranded citizens living overseas and have so far flown back over 220,000 people from dozens of countries.

Puri said India was in talks with at least three countries on operating flights in a bilateral “air bubble”. The ministry said in a statement later on Thursday it had already established such agreements with the United States, France and Germany and was in advanced talks with the United Kingdom.

The ministry also said French carrier Air France (AIRF.PA), U.S. airline United (UAL.O) and Germany’s Lufthansa (LHAG.DE) would be operating flights to India over the coming days.

The airline industry around the world has been hammered by a slump in travel due to restrictions aimed at containing the novel coronavirus.

Reporting and photo: Reuters

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