Only the village idiot, or those in the top echelons of the civil aviation ministry, would have been surprised when Jet Airways flew into the darkness on Wednesday evening.
Sadly, while the cessation of the 25-year-old carrier’s operations is officially described as “temporary”, most experts believe that in the absence of any positive moves in recent weeks the prospects are not very bright that a new investor will come forward to revive the airline that carries a debt burden of at least Rs 8,000 crore.
When a government-initiated consortium of bankers did not live up to a “promise” of injecting Rs 1,500 crore into the beleaguered carrier, and even a plea for emergency funding of Rs 400 crore was turned down, the red flag was finally waved.
That an estimated 20,000 people (and their families) could run into grave financial difficulties assumed little priority to a banking sector under the political hammer for incurring massive non-performing assets ~ allegedly under the pressure of the previous government: a case of once-bitten, twice shy.
It can be forcefully argued that it is not the government’s job to bail out a commercial venture that has soured, yet having chosen to get involved, the NDA government could have done more than hold a few result-less meetings at the PMO-level and then leave the carrier in the lurch. For as long as the government appeared “interested” other potential investors stayed away.
Now there could be a wait of another few weeks before an “expression of interest” is made. Till then the passenger will suffer. With Jet’s services no longer available a massive vacuum in the market has been created and predatory pricing has taken over. Mr Suresh Prabhu and his officials may deliver sermons, issue threats etc. but are unable to stop the bleeding of the travelling public.
To make things even more difficult with Jet folding its wings and the Boeing 737 Max aircraft being grounded, the Airbus NEOs are also in trouble.
At a time when Raisina Hill is projecting a booming economy, the mess in commercial aviation and its potholed skyways puncture anything that may be achieved by selective citing of economic indices.
And that impression has more than negative electoral implications. Increases in demand for air services do not gel with major carriers collapsing like the proverbial house of cards. To run away with the idea that a couple of dubious promoters have caused the airline business to run aground is as superficial as the hope that a band-aid solution would fix Jet.
It is time to find the moral courage to look deeply into commercial aviation’s several woes, seek external expertise where necessary. A flourishing sector tells the world more about national well-being than a chorus chanting political slogans without any conviction.