New Delhi: Top officials of Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines were on Thursday grilled by a Parliamentary panel on issues ranging from merger fallout and fleet acquisition to complaints of poor passenger services.

Sources said Air India has been asked to submit all documents on merger and acquisition from the conceptual stage onwards to the Public Accounts Committee within a week.

Air India officials told the PAC that it was their idea to merge the two carriers as the 'open sky' policy had increased competition in the aviation sector.

They also said that since the lifespan of their aircraft was ending, they thought of acquiring new planes and believed that merger will provide them with a better strength to compete in the new environment.

The officials were grilled on their plan to acquire 50 aircraft which quickly got the government's nod recently while their earlier plan to buy 18 additional planes could not materialize even after six years.

They are learnt to have told the Committee that the proposal to purchase 18 aircraft was a short-term move whereas the proposal to induct 50 planes was a long-term plan which had the approval of the board.

"They said the file went from bottom to top and got cleared," a committee member said quoting the officials.

Air India officials refuted suggestions that they had shut down profitable routes and assured the Committee to provide it with details to support their claim.

Officials of the erstwhile Indian Airlines were grilled by the PAC members for their "poor" passenger service.

The AI officials included K M Unni, S Venkat and F J Vaz dealing with airframe, finance and commercial operations respectively besides representatives of erstwhile IA-Vipin Sharma, Deepak Brara and V Bhandari.

Officials of erstwhile Indian Airlines were asked to respond to reports that on several occasions passengers were made to sit inside the aircraft for hours before take off.

Reacting to questions on losses, the officials said the carrier has a large workforce and unlike private operators they maintain and overhaul their aircraft on their own.

At this, some PAC members suggested that the carrier should maintain and overhaul aircraft of other operators to earn extra revenue.

The grilling was based on a recent CAG report on Civil Aviation which had said that the decision to acquire 111 planes by Air India through debt was "a recipe for disaster" and should have raised alarm in the government.

In its latest report tabled in Parliament in September, the public audit body also called the merger of two erstwhile state-run carriers--Air India and Indian Airlines-- "ill-timed" and said that "the financial case for the merger was not adequately validated prior to the merger".

 The report also dealt with several aspects of the ailing national carrier's losses, fleet acquisition, merger, huge debt burden, and delay in joining the global airline grouping Star Alliance and its financial and operational performance.

(Agencies)