Air India-Tata Deal: The iconic maharajah returns home

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Tea-to-software Indian giant Tata is buying back Air India, 89 years after founding it as Tata Air and half a century following its nationalisation. Over the last several years, the airline, also the country’s flag carrier, had come to symbolise a Maharaja (also AI’s mascot) whose privy purse seemed to have lasted too long at taxpayers’ expense.

Even after the 15 years of the Indian Airlines (IA) and Air India (AI’s) merger, the marriage remains rocky and unstable, largely shaken by a messy manpower integration process, because of a variety of reasons including a mixed Boeing and Airbus fleet. As part of the sale purchase agreement to buy Air India, the Tata Group will retain all of Air India’s ~12,000 employees for a period of at least one year. Tata owns 51 percent in Indian airline Vistara — Singapore Airlines holds the remaining 49 percent — as well as an 84-percent stake in AirAsia India, all of which Tata will now try to bring together.

Air India comes with a fleet of around 120 aircraft in addition to 4,400 domestic and 1,800 international landing and parking slots at domestic airports, and 900 slots at airports overseas. Air India operates 50 percent of all international flights from India.

Now, Air India has returned to the Tata Group, India’s biggest conglomerate. In an emotional note, Ratan Tata, chairman emeritus and cousin of JRD Tata, said the airline under JRD had “gained the reputation of being one of the most prestigious airlines in the world”.

“Tatas will have the opportunity of regaining the image and reputation it enjoyed in earlier years,” he said.

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