Once described as the Maharaja, the king of the skies, the country's debt ridden national airline has become a big defaulter.
Air India (AI) owes Rs 566 crore to the Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL) - the consortium which manages the Indira Gandhi International (IGI) Airport and faces a huge cash crunch - with Rs 26 crore due for this month.
Throw in the Rs 100-plus crore that Air India owes to GMR's Hyderabad airport operation, the amount is a staggering Rs 670 crore.
According to sources, despite several reminders, the dues have not been cleared.
After the GMR Group, which is the lead member of the consortium, followed it up with senior AI officials, Rs 15 crore was paid last month. On Monday, another cheque of Rs 5 crore landed in DIAL's account.
The dues are partly related to landing and parking charges, which every aircraft has to pay to land at the IGI Airport.
"I am aware that Air India owes certain dues. We have raised objections on certain charges that have been levied. We are in the process of meeting with GMR officials and will clear them soon," Rohit Nandan, chairman and managing director, AI, told MAIL TODAY.
"We are working out on a formula so this can be settled." What is of greater concern to DIAL is that the airport development fee (ADF) being charged from passengers - Rs 200 for domestic and Rs 1,100 from international passengers - is also not being deposited with DIAL.
"Every fortnight, we have devised a system where Air India and other private airlines have to remit the ADF to DIAL and GHIAL", a top DIAL source said.
"Finally, in disgust, we have written to the ministry because it is a matter of financial exigency now.
"It impacts our revenue stream and since there is a major revenue shortfall, we have to resort to borrowings. Our short-term borrowings alone are in the immediate vicinity of Rs 700 crore."
A senior GMR Group official said: "The outstanding dues of Air India are a cause of concern for DIAL and GHIAL's (GMR Hyderabad International Airport Ltd) airline as well the ministry of civil aviation at the highest level on a regular basis and hope that the matter will be resolved soon."
Sources added that DIAL, which loses close to Rs 40 crore per month, is likely to suffer a loss of around Rs 900-1,000 crore in this financial year.
The loss is primarily due to the delay by the Airport Economic Regulatory Authority (AERA) in fixing airport tariff. Operators also earn from the non-aeronautical opportunities airports offer, such as by leasing space to shops.
While about half of DIAL's income came from nonaeronautical sources earlier, the share is likely to fall to 30 per cent now.
Last year DIAL's losses were Rs 450 crore, while they are expecting a cash break even this year. DIAL has massive debt, including foreign borrowings, of Rs 5,300 crore and is paying an interest at a rate of 10-10.5 per cent.
As the airport operator and the Maharaja squabble, there are other problems that have plagued the airport.
The stand-off between DIAL and the airport regulator continues despite the steep hike in the Delhi airport charges the regulator allowed in April.
Airlines have been protesting ever since DIAL first announced its intention to raise charges by a whopping 774 per cent.
At least, one foreign carrier, Air Asia, stopped using Delhi and Mumbai airports from March-end soon after DIAL proposed the hike.
With AERA agreeing to a lesser but still substantial hike of 346 per cent, several carriers under the banner of the Federation of Indian Airlines have challenged the decision in the Delhi High Court.
The International Air Transport Association has said that the move would reduce passenger traffic by five to seven per cent and add more than $400 million to airlines' operating costs.
However, DIAL sources say airlines have saved around Rs 500 crore on account of faster turnaround time and reduction in time wasted on circling the airport while waiting for landing permission.
DIAL spent Rs 12,857 crore on modernising the Delhi airport, of which the equity contribution put in by all members of the consortium was Rs 2,450 crore.