Air India is drawing up a proposal to offer voluntary buyouts to just over a third of its 40,000 employees, two government officials said, in what would be one of the largest such offers in India’s state sector, as the airline slashes costs ahead of a 2018 sale.  The state-owned airline has also put fleet expansion on hold, scrapping a proposal to lease eight Boeing 787 wide-body aircraft, said one of the officials, a senior Air India employee who requested anonymity as the plans are not public. Air India’s board approved that proposal in April but nothing further had been done. “Nothing has been finalised but our aim is to make the strategic sale as simple as we can,” the company official said, adding that any fresh investment would also be put on hold. Air India spokesman Dhananjay Kumar said the company had not offered employees voluntary buyouts. The flag carrier is on the block after Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Cabinet last month approved plans to privatise the loss-making airline by selling part or all of the company and ending decades of state support. Founded in the 1930s and known to generations of Indians for its Maharajah mascot, Air India has a complex fleet, too many staff relative to rivals and $8.5 billion in debt. Since 2012, New Delhi has injected $3.6 billion to keep it afloat. An official in Modi’s office said the Prime Minister, under pressure to cut spending and boost basic infrastructure such as ports and roads, was in “no mood” to provide fresh monetary assistance to any loss-making public sector company. The two government sources, who are familiar with Air India’s plans, said top officials in the civil aviation ministry and at Air India had been asked to present a report on how a Voluntary Retirement Scheme (VRS) could be offered to some 15,000 of Air India’s 40,000 staff, including contractors. Many of the contractors, including office staff and ground handlers, have worked for the airline for years, and would need to be given buyout offers to prevent protests from them, said the senior company official, who is involved in the airline’s daily operations.  Previous attempts to offload the airline have failed mainly because of the scale and complexity of Air India’s problems, as well as its influential unions. If Modi can pull the privatisation off it will buttress his credentials as a reformer brave enough to wade into some of the country’s most intractable problems. The News 18 : 19th. July,17


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