Atanu Dey On India's Development

Thundering Airlines

The mother of all thunderstorms is roaring outside the window as I write this from Kolkata. I got here last night from Pune after a brief stop-over in Mumbai.

The sky was ominously dark this morning and now it is pouring so hard that visibility is reduced to less than 100 feet. The thunder and lightening is almost continuous. There is something deep inside which rejoices in beholding the awesome power of nature. There must be something atavistic in this reaction, a genetically programmed response to life-giving rain.

Last week at this time I was in northern California. Saturday morning saw me in Mumbai. And last night I was in Kolkata. Within the space of two weeks, I have been in northern California, Mexico city, Mumbai, Pune, Kolkata, and transited through Guadalajara and Seoul. The miracle of commercial air transportation is easy to take for granted. But it was impossible just a 100 years ago. And who can tell what will be possible 100 years hence: will we be moving about the planets as nonchalantly as we move about the earth today?

Indian (the airlines formerly known as “Indian Airlines”) brought me to Kolkata. The seating has been optimized for stunted dwarves. It is certainly not meant for people over six feet tall such as yours truly. The saving grace — and this applies to all non-discount airlines in India — is that the food is not inedible like it is on most American and European airlines.

Talking of Indian, here is something that puzzles me a bit. The airlines formerly known as “Indian Airlines” is now called “Indian.” Don’t know who the genius was who thought that it would be a brilliant idea to change “Indian Airlines” to merely “Indian.” So now you have to refer to that airline as “Indian (the airlines which was formerly known as “Indian Airlines.”)” The idiocy of this leaves one stunned. The mind staggers. Even boggles. It makes your head spin and strains credulity. Surely among stupid braindead moronic lobotomized ideas, renaming an airline “Indian” must take the cake. You may ask why. Here is why.

First, it was not as if the name “Indian Airlines” was biting someone in the butt. It was not as if a person was not very sure what that name meant. It was not that someone else claimed that domain name and the airline was forced to change its moniker. No sir, there was no problem with that name. But then, you may say that perhaps the name was getting old and somewhat generic. It could happen, you know. You say “Indian Airlines” and someone thinks you are talking of Indian air carriers in general and not about the specific carrier. I have found that about “American Airlines.” You have to be careful to distinguish between the specific and the general. So alright, “Indian Airlines” could have been changed to something else.

But removing the “airlines” and just retaining “Indian” is as astoundingly stupid as one can ever get. So now when you say “Indian” you don’t know whether you are talking about food, clothing, land, thought, behavior, or . . . an airline! Making a bad thing worse is not an improvement.

OK, so you would say, “what is the big deal anyway?” Renaming airlines is not the end of the world, you would remind me. No it is not the end of the world but it is stupifyingly costly. Have you ever gotten your car repainted? Set you back a few thousand bucks, if you did. Now painting a plane costs a few hundred thousand dollars. That is not all. It could take two weeks to paint a plane. And you cannot paint it when it is plying its routes. So there is the loss of revenues from painting a plane. I think a reasonable cost for painting a plane would be a million US dollars. Do that for about 30 or 40 planes and your total cost would be (I estimate) about US$50 million. There you have it: an extremely stupid idea which costs a bundle.

So who pays for this? Not the lobotomized idiot who came up with this idea. You and I pay for it. We pay high prices so that we can be packed in like stunted dwarves. And if not enough people wish to be treated such, the airline suffers a loss and the government (which owns the airlines) suffers a loss. But this just means that we — the taxpayers — ultimately pay for the totally needless waste of public resources in repainting an airline just for the heck of it. We cannot flog the chairman of the airline who wasted our money but we should really flog the idiot.

OK, so you say, “Atanu, calm down. Take a chill pill and consider this. It is a one time deal. $50 million is not all that much.” I will say this. Painting the plane is not all that you have to do. You have to go and change all sorts of things when you change a name. You have to go and redo all stationery, for instance. You have to repaint all signs — in offices, at airports, in god alone knows how many places. In the end, it could cost you $100 million.

And this is the best part of the sheer idiocy of the name change of “Indian Airlines” to “Indian.” This year, 2006, Air India and Indian (the airlines formerly known as “Indian Airlines”) are going to merge. Just about the time that the idiot who approved the name change finishes spending $100 million, they will have to redo the whole thing. You see, that renaming will be good for only a few months. The combined airlines will most likely be called “Air India.” And they will then have to go and repaint all those planes “Air India” after having just finished repainting them “Indian” from “Indian Airlines.”

So here is my conspiracy theory: someone is making bucks painting and repainting airplanes. Some of those bucks are pocketed by someone in a position of making decisions that are clearly stupid and costly.

Why is India poor? Because of a lack of accountability. Accountability is missing in public sector enterprises. The bosses are not accountable to shareholders, only to their political bosses. The whole thing stinks to the high heavens. And most of us — especially those who vote for communists — are totally unaware that our public sector is just another ingredient in the poisonous mix that stunts India’s economic growth.

The thunderstorm is over. The sun is out. I am out of here.

  • http://jagadish.blogspot.com/ S Jagadish

    Atanu

    Nice rant. I wrote about this whole rebranding exercise in a slightly different context – the sponsorship rights by the BCCI late last year after the renaming.

  • mishti

    Well said. and this folly (or calculated spending of public money) gets resorted to every few years. Madhav Rao Scindia had changed the logo of Air India from the centaur to some rising sun and had paid a few million dollars to a public relations firm (US based) for the new logo, only to revert abck to the old one in a few months time (twice painting all the aircrafts, offices etc. etc.).

  • Jayant N

    Atanu and other readers,
    Greetings from Seoul, Korea.
    Take solace in the simple fact that the total idiocy / incompetence of the Indian Govt. is a blessing in disguise. If the b#ggers were more effective they’d do far more “serious” damage!
    Have a nice time in Kolkata – formally known as Calcutta!

  • Veneeta

    Hi Antanu,

    Well said, but whose there to hear? We all vent our frustrations in different ways and you did with this lovely rant. Unfortunately we discuss and the matter passes and we have to continue paying our taxes happily.
    Interesting read though.
    Cheers! and enjoy the city of Rosogullas!

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  • Hemk

    Maybe one of you in India can file a RTI petition about the Indian airlines balance sheet. Is that published every year?

    The bigger question (that you touched upon Atanu in your eloquent rant) is:

    - What’s the best way to make these govt. organizations efficient?
    * Study their balance sheets at the end of the year?
    * Publish reports on the worst 100 on the list?

    I think a progressive TV station (NDTV?) or a non-profit should take up the reins?

    Thoughts?

    Its obvious that privatisation is the most efficient way of improving organizations, but in India we know how hard that is.

  • Anonymous

    I wanted to comment on the first part of your post. The miracle of commercial transportation is indeed taken for granted, and so is its increasing environmental impact. And the irony is airlines is the only industry that gets away burning high octane fule TAX FREE. I was hoping to read your views on this aspect of the ‘Thundering Airlines’, instead of rant on a stupid name change.

  • Soumya

    Hi Atanu ,

    I like the logic of your “conspiray theory”….. big money get changes hands but the tax payers are getting the brunt of it. Truly as u say there is no accountability .
    Anyway enjoy Kolkata , Subho Bijoya !!!

  • http://www.latestinindia.com Ashish

    Wow! Nice post – loved the way you described it.

    :-)

  • http://filmiholic.com Filmiholic

    And given what a crappy airline they were already, I can imagine they had piles of money sitting around unused.

    Never mind painting the outside of the plane, they should spiff up the interiors and get the poor crews a fresh change of clothes. I flew them a few years ago to Colombo, and wow, how awful compared to Sri Lankan Airlines. The carpet was puckering up off the floor (imagine the stew tripping while carrying a pot of hot tea) and the entire crew looked like they had slept in their uniforms.

    By comparison to IA (sorry, “I”), Sri Lankan Airlines was the picture of shiny new efficiency, from the uniforms to the planes to the attitude (most important). I suppose it didn’t hurt that the whole fleet had just been replaced by parent company Emirates after the LTTE airport attack….

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  • Krish

    So what is the big deal? Most municipal corporations pay contractors the equivalent of millions of dollars each year to resurface the roads damaged by rains. As if designed such, they become potholed in exactly one year, and this cycle repeats.

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  • SHYAMAL KANTI DAS

    You have written it in a lucidway. But will Civil Aviation Ministry, Government of India will read and take action for rectification ? I doubt.
    No matters. We can spend any amount with stupidity but not in the interest of our country.
    Decision making people will not listen to you.
    I would be happy if Minister of Civil aviation decides and take action appropriately.

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