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Tata Sons’ Chief N Chandrasekaran appointed as chairman of Air India

By Ruchi Upadhyay 
Updated Date

NEW DELHI: N Chandrasekaran, the chairman of Tata Sons, has been officially appointed as the chairman of Air India, according to sources.

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Tata group had previously announced Turkey’s Ilker Ayci as the chief executive of Air India, but that appointment was met with a lot of opposition in India.

Turkey’s Ilker Ayci had declined to be the chief executive of Tata’s Air India.

Mr Chandrasekaran is the Chairman of Tata Sons, the holding company and promoter of more than 100 Tata operating companies. He joined the Board of Tata Sons in October 2016 and was appointed Chairman in January 2017.

General Insurance Corporation former CMD Alice GeeVarghese Vaidyan will be inducted on the airline board as an independent director.

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Chandra’s priority is to get a professional CEO for the airline, who can then put a team of top notch aviation personnel for turning around the fortunes of Air India — seen as one of the most challenging turnarounds in contemporary aviation.

Industry insiders caution the Tatas should not make the same mistake that the government did when the latter ran AI.

“Under government control, clueless bureaucrats who had little or no knowledge of aviation — with a few honourable exceptions — ran the airline. The lack of professionals running AI led to its ruin. We get nostalgic about JRD era of AI but that was then. The Tata’s second stint in aviation, that started with JVs AirAsia India taking off in 2014 and then Vistara a year later, has not been profitable so far. The people at the top of Tata JVs are not dyed-in-the-wool aviation professionals and the effect is showing,” said an old-timer who did not wish to be named.

The formerly state-run airline’s wait to get an aviation veteran as CEO continues as former Turkish Airlines chairman Ilker Ayci recently declined the position of AI MD & CEO.

A new CEO — who is likely be finalised shortly — with a proven track record in aviation is expected to put in place a team of professionals.

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“Chandra (as the chairman is known) has been taking personal interest in the airline. He has been taking detailed presentations from all board members since last week,” say officials.

Outlining Tata’s vision for the airline they founded, Chandra had recently promised to make “AI the world class airline it deserves to be” and “absolutely best in class” in customer service, technology, fleet, network and “best possible hospitality both in flight and off flight.” All these will require a team of top notch experts.

“AI has to quickly become a more attractive option to leverage its main strength of medium/long and ultra-long haul international direct connectivity in terms of cabin comfort to prevent foreign airlines from evening its bubble-time passengers away. In domestic, IndiGo — with a much lower cost base — has close to 55% market share,” said an industry insider.

With regular international flights starting from March 27, people will again have the option of taking one-stops via nearby hubs to fly between India and rest of the world.

The bubble system in place — from March 23, 2020 will end on March 26, 2022 — meant less flights by foreign airlines.

DGCA data shows that in the last pre-pandemic quarter, October-December 2019, Indian carriers accounted for 39.2% of international travel to and from India while foreign carriers’ share was 60.8%. AI (11.5%) and AI Express (7.3%) share was 18.8%. On a standalone basis, IndiGo had the highest international market share.

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The latest pandemic time DGCA is for July-September 2021 when Indian carriers’ share rose to 48.1% and foreign carriers’ fell to 51.9%.

AI (14.5%) and AI Express’ (11.8%) combined share in this period rose by 40% to 26.3%. And on a standalone basis, AI had the highest international market share.

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