Published: 16th May 2020
We offered to fly migrants home and the offer still stands: SpiceJet CMD Ajay Singh
Though hit badly by the two month-long grounding of passenger aircrafts, Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, SpiceJet talks about their proposal to fly migrant labourers and their resilience
As soon as the problem of migrant labourers walking back home arose, SpiceJet had offered to the government to fly them instead - but received no response - revealed Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director of SpiceJet. "We had offered (airlifts) from our side very early on. We said to them, sending people on 5-6 days of bus ride where they are susceptible to infection, could have been substituted with a two and a half hour journey." Given that nearly "600-700 planes" have been grounded, Singh estimated that they could have helped ease the movement of migrant workers in a smoother, faster way if the government had taken them up on their offer, "A plane carries easily 1000 passengers in a day. We could've carried up to 5 lakh people, but there seemed to have been some concerns," he admitted.
Singh attributed the silence from the government's side to the concerns that somehow, air travel is not safe enough due to the confined space, the significant amount of money required and restricted air circulation. "On the contrary, the air that circulates is among the purest.This was just lack of information," asserted Singh. Upon being asked if he would reiterate the offer to the government, Singh said that they wouldn't like to second guess the government and the "offer stands any which way." He estimates that while domestic travel will open phase-wise in a week (May 22), international travel might take a few months or more.
Singh spoke candidly and with a lot of verve about the future of flying in a POST-COVID world with Prabhu Chawla, Editorial Director, The New Indian Express and Shankkar Aiyar, author and political economy analyst during Express Expressions, a series of webinars by The New Indian Express. They were also joined by Dr Rajeev Singh, Director General, Indian Chamber of Commerce (ICC). This episode of Expressions was done in partnership with ICC.
Ajay Singh, Chairman and Managing Director, SpiceJet | (Pic: SpiceJet)
While admitting that the aviation industry around the world is going through its "worst possible crisis ever", he pointed out that this was particularly hard on a severely stressed sector like aviation - where players like Naresh Goyal's Jet Airways and Vijay Mallya's Kingfisher have crash landed overnight. SpiceJet itself went to the brink of closure before Singh stepped in and turned things around.
He also disclosed that the airlines made a proposal about a revival package to the Ministry of Civil Aviation, which is now being discussed by the Ministry of Finance, which will help them bounce back faster. "We will bounce back faster if it comes through, but even if it doesn't, we will pull through because we are resilient, just like India is," he stated. Though there have been salary cuts and leaves without pay, they haven't had to hand out the pink slip to any of their employees yet.
Singh added that if airlines in India are not "taxed to death" with almost half their fares going towards government taxes and levies, they could still get through this rough patch. "If the government supports their home carriers and if the entire industry, bottom up, is looked at, right from quality pilots, then they can do better as an industry. Just give us a level playing field, that's all we ask. Then there will be no stopping us from becoming global leaders in aviation," he said.
When Rajeev Singh brought up UDAN, the regional connectivity scheme launched by the government, and asked how it will be impacted due to the ongoing crisis, Singh remained positive that as this scheme is a successful one and a particularly beloved one of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, there is no chance that the scheme will be adversely affected. "In fact, if there are 18 flights operating from New Delhi to Mumbai, the airline doesn't get anything by operating a 19th one. It is when we operate flights to Tier II or Tier III cities that it is more profitable," he shared.