As many as a dozen candidates are in the race to head India's airports regulator the Airports Authority of India (AAI), which also runs state-run airports in the country. The organization’s current chairman K. Ramalingam completes his tenure later this year.
The shortlisted candidates include two members of the AAI board, three Indian Administrative Service (IAS) officers and senior executives with public sector undertakings, according to a senior civil aviation ministry official, who did not wish to be identified because the search process is still on.
Readying for change: A file photo of the New Delhi airport. The decision to privatize the airport was taken during the tenure of current AAI chairman K. Ramalingam, who is to retire later this year. Photograph: Rajeev Dabral / Mint
The aviation ministry is also in the process of finding a candidate to head aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). The last date for applying for the post has been moved several times as previous applicants did not meet eligibility criteria. The current director general, Kanu Gohain, who has been granted two extensions already, is slated to retire by end of this month.
The state-run AAI, through an eponymous unit, manages around 127 airports across the country, with an estimated Rs4,000 crore in annual revenues and around Rs984 crore in profits in the last fiscal year.
The 19,000-employee strong entity plans to invest nearly Rs5,000 crore by 2010 on upgradation of Kolkata and Chennai international airports and improving air traffic services besides upgrading non-metro airports.
Interviews for selecting the candidate are likely to be conducted by civil aviation secretary Ashok Chawla and officials from the Public Enterprises Selection Board, the government-arm responsible for selecting candidates for top public sector posts, later this month. Among those in the running for the chairman's post are AAI member (planning) V.P. Agrawal, AAI member (finance) S.C. Chhatwal, and joint secretary (ministry of tourism) Amod Kant Sharma.
The selection will then have to be approved by the minister of civil aviation Praful Patel before being sent to the government's department of personnel and training and the appointments committee of the Union cabinet.
It is in incumbent Ramalingam's tenure, starting 2004, that several deregulation measures including the final decisions on privatizing the Delhi and Mumbai airports, which are now run by GMR Infrastructure Ltd and GVK Industries Ltd-led consortiums, respectively, were taken. New airports at Hyderabad and Bangalore, as also modernization of 35 non-metro airports and upgradation of Air Traffic Control services, were also kicked off.
The challenge, an expert said, would be to keep up the pace of change at AAI at a time when the aviation sector is booming in the country and there is paucity of airport infrastructure on the ground. Robey Lal, a retired board member of AAI, said: “The (new AAI chairman) will have to look at manpower and service standards, instead of just looking at it as just bricks and mortar business in very, very trying circumstances.”