Air India on course for ruin after 'years of fraud'
Theft, fraud and abuse of perks by pilots and crew have set India's national carrier on course to bankruptcy, the aviation minister has claimed, with staff caught stealing whisky and caviar, and being chauffeured in limousines to five-star hotels.
In eight years, Air India, known as the "Maharaja" for its turbanned cartoon mascot, has fallen from profit to an estimated €7.8bn in debt. In frustration, Ajit Singh, India's aviation minister, has said the country does not need a national carrier.
Air India was investigating 161 cases of theft, fraud and abuse of perks, Mr Singh said.
One catering officer was caught stealing caviar worth around €370, while a purser was discovered walking away with more than 370 spirit miniatures.
Generous staff benefits are said to have contributed to losses. Investigators discovered pilots insisted on staying in five-star hotels in New York, Chicago and Mumbai during stop-overs instead of at cheaper airport hotels.
Meanwhile, serving and retired pilots and crew would take business class seats ahead of paying customers.
"It's been going on for years," said Dr Sannat Kaur, former joint secretary of India's civil aviation ministry, and now chairman of the International Foundation for Aviation.
The disclosures were made as more than 350 Air India pilots escalated an unofficial strike by calling in sick. The strike was called as part of a squabble over which pilots should fly the new Boeing 787 Dreamliner aircraft. (© Daily Telegraph, London)