At least 51 people are keen to head Air India, run by state-owned National Aviation Co. of India Ltd, or Nacil, and have applied for the post of chairman and managing director of the airline company two months before its current chief steps down.
The top job at Air India is much sought after as it comes with better perks compared with other government-owned corporations and is seen as a high-profile posting.
A civil aviation ministry official, who did not wished to be quoted, said given that Air India has become a much larger organization following its merger with the domestic Indian Airlines Ltd, the interest is not surprising.
Both Vasudevan Thulasidas, 59, current chairman and managing director of Air India, and joint managing director Vishwapati Trivedi, 53, give up their existing roles on 31 March.
A closer look at the 51-people list shows very few aspirants —some from the private sector, some advocates—have any aviation background.
Among those who have applied for the chairman’s position—a post requiring engagement for at least five years as per the advertisement floated by the ministry— are Trivedi, Air India’s strategic business unit head Amod Sharma, director personnel Anup K. Srivastava, finance director S. Chandreskhar and Raghu Menon, an additional secretary in the aviation ministry.
Others in the running include K. Jairaj, principal secretary to the government of Karnataka; joint secretary with Union finance ministry’s department of economic affairs, Arvind Mayram; principal secretary to the Chhattisgarh government T. Radha Krishnan, P.C. Chaturvedi, director general of Employees’ State Insurance Corp.; chief secretary of Meghalaya R. Chatterjee; and principal secretary to the government of Andhra Pradesh S.N. Mohanty.
A retired Air India professional, asking not to be named, said the airline desperately needs fresh thinking and a strong leader as it had started making losses since 2004.
“What they should do,” the former Air India official said, “is to bring in a leader with a tall personality from outside, who is above political rivalries...like in the case with Singapore Airlines, and have three separate chairmen on contract for different business units with full autonomy. A change is a must to bring up cohesiveness (in the airline) when there is so much factionalism.”
The airline is currently merging its workforce of more than 33,000 into a single entity.
A search panel headed by Union cabinet secretary K. Chandrashekhar is expected to shortlist applicants in the next fortnight.