Goyal’s ‘AI is gold mine’ remark can only take off ailing airline

Piyush Goyal’s bid to paint the AI as a ‘gold mine’ at Davos in front of the business community would only be perceived as a ‘fervent selling pitch’

FCI probe a wake-up call; guilty will not be spared: Food Minister Piyush Goyal
Union Minister Piyush Goyal I File photo: PTI

Union Minister for Commerce and Railways Piyush Goyal’s statement at the World Economic Forum in Davos that Air India is a gold mine and that he would have bid for it if he was not a minister gives rise to quite a few questions.

The minister said the airline had the best bilaterals – which is an agreement between countries to allow the others’ airlines to operate with a specific number of seats.

Goyal said, “If I wasn’t a minister today, I would be bidding for Air India. It has some of the best bilaterals the world over. A well-managed and efficient Air India with a lot more good aircraft put in using these bilaterals is nothing short of a gold mine in my mind.”

Also read: Air India sell-off: Viable reserve price holds the key to cut further losses

The minister’s statement gives rise to some pertinent questions on the government’s role in ensuring the viability of the carrier. The minister appears to be sure that the airline is a ‘gold mine.’ If so, is the government not duty-bound to dig deep and keep the airline flying?

The government’s initial efforts to find a ‘strategic partner’ to operate the airline had failed. Also, buyers were cold to the initial divestment offer. The Federal had reported that the key to the deal was to keep operating cost at the minimum rather than accumulating losses by waiting for a buyer with deep pockets.

Now, Piyush Goyal’s bid to paint the AI as a ‘gold mine’ at Davos in front of the business community would only be perceived as a ‘fervent selling pitch’.

Also read: Disinvestment still far away but Air India gasping for breath

Also, those in the know are of the opinion said the government should first divest the other companies on its list, namely, Bharat Petroleum Corp. Ltd (BPCL), Container Corporation of India Ltd (Concor) and Shipping Corporation of India Ltd (SCI), to prove that it meant business. This would boost the confidence of the investors.

Goyal also had resorted to some bad mudslinging – very typical of the present dispensation. His statement was that the government inherited an economy which was in ‘pretty terrible shape.’ An international economic summit was the last place a minister should have made such a remark as, for the international community and its monetary mechanisms, every country is only a continuum and party differences mean little. Their radars are locked in on whether a country is business agile.

In 2018-19, Air India’s net loss was around ₹8,556 crore. The airline has a debt burden of more than ₹80,000 crore.