New Delhi, Feb 20: Air India had deployed larger aircraft to apparently accommodate the family of the then Union Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel on their trip to Bangalore-Maldives in April 2010, file notings disclosed by the national carrier indicate.
It had earlier been claimed that since the seven business class seats were already booked on the IC-965, flying from Bangalore to Male, Air India switched to bigger aircraft A320, with 20 business class seats, to accommodate seven members of Deshpande family—in-laws of Patel's daughter Avni.
The passenger list now disclosed after the directives of the Central Information Commission shows that the Deshpandes were indeed on board IC-965 April 25, 2010 for Bangalore-Male and IC-966 from Male to Bangalore on April 28, 2010.
The list shows seven family members who travelled on the flights included Congress leader R V Deshpande, Radha Deshpande, Prasad Deshpande, Meghna Deshpande and Master Dhruv, in addition to Avni and her husband Prashant Deshpande.
According to the disclosure, the notings show that instructions were issued over email from Mumbai Headquarters to change the “equipment” of Bangalore Male flight on April 25 and Male Bangalore on April 28, 2010 from a smaller Airbus A319 to larger A 320.
The Air India normally plies Airbus A 319 aircraft on the route which is smaller one with eight business class seats and 114 economy class seats.
The order, a copy of which was supplied with the RTI reply said, “Due to heavy demand in J Class on Bangalore Male on April 25, 2010 and Male Bangalore on April 28, 2010, the J Class capacity is increased on the above two dates by rotation change in equipment.”
The order for the change were issued from the top officials of Air India as the copy for the decision was sent to Aben Lal, who is now General Manager, Commercial with a note “this is in reference to your telecon with Mr F J Vaz (now Executive Director Commercial).
The reply stated, ”Station Manager, Bangalore had received an e-mail on April 8, 2010 from Harjeet Sawhney, the then Manager (scheduling), Commercial Headquarters, Air India, Mumbai regarding change of equipment on April 25 and 28, 2010,” the carrier said in its RTI reply.
With the change in the aircraft, the carrier had to fly with six vacant seats in the business class and 47 in economy class on the way from Bangalore to Male on its flight IC-965, the passenger list revealed under the RTI Act to activist Subhash Agrawal shows.
Similarly while returning on April 28, eight business class seats and 52 economy seats were vacant on the Air India flight IC-966 from Male to Bangalore on April 28, 2010.
The carrier, which was hesitant in disclosing the passenger details even after the orders of the CIC, was issued show cause notice for non-compliance.
While providing the details The Air India said,”though keeping in view the spirit of RTI Act, 2005 we are complying with the orders of the Information Commissioner (Sushma Singh) and providing the information to the appellant, it is humbly requested that this may please not be allowed to be treated as precedent since the company keeping in view its commercial interest follows the practice of not disclosing the travel particulars of its valued passengers, which are personal to them, to any third party.”