Mumbai: Low-fare airline AirAsia India Ltd on Wednesday appointed Sunil Bhaskaran, vice president (corporate services) at Tata Steel Ltd, as its new managing director and chief executive officer, in place of former MD and CEO Amar Abrol who returned to its Malaysian parent in May.

Bhaskaran will take up the role with effect from 15 November and oversee the next phase of expansion and growth, AirAsia India said in a statement.

AirAsia India is a joint venture of Tata Sons Ltd and Malaysia’s AirAsia Group Bhd.

Meanwhile, business news channel CNBC, quoting unnamed officials, reported that Air Asia India’s chairman, S. Ramadorai, will be replaced by Tata Sons president (infrastructure, defence and aerospace) Banmali Agrawala, while AirAsia Group chief executive Tony Fernandes and deputy group chief executive Bo Lingam, have also stepped down from the AirAsia India board.

Mint couldn’t independently verify this.

The report added that AirAsia India is likely to undergo a leadership reshuffle under Agrawala.

“We are delighted to welcome Mr Bhaskaran as the new CEO & MD of AirAsia India. With India’s aviation sector growing at a rapid pace, we are confident his extensive experience, ability to drive performance and work seamlessly with all stakeholders will be a great asset for AirAsia India," said Ramadorai.

The Tata Group did not offer comments on the issue.

Agrawala also did not offer any comments.

The changes come in the backdrop of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) on 29 May raiding the offices of AirAsia India, after filing a complaint against Fernandes and others on 28 May, for allegedly lobbying the government for overseas flight permits and violating rules that prevent foreign airlines from controlling Indian operators.

CBI’s first information report (FIR) said that the violations occurred from 2013 to 2016, before the government eased restrictions on Indian airlines starting overseas flights in June 2016.

AirAsia India has in a statement denied any wrongdoing and said it had co-operated with all regulators and agencies to present the facts.

However, Mint had on 1 June reported that key decisions across the board at AirAsia India needed approval from Malaysian shareholder AirAsia Group Bhd, quoting from the brand licence agreement between the two entities. In India, regulations state that effective control of airline companies jointly owned by Indian and foreign entities should lie with the domestic company.

“The move (to put Bhaskaran at the helm of AirAsia India) shows that the Tata group wants to retain control and decision-making at AirAsia India," said an airline executive, who did not want to be named.

AirAsia India, which started operations in June 2014, has 19 aircraft in its fleet and plans to begin international operations soon.

The airline also has plans to add up to 70 aircraft to its fleet over the next four to five years as it seeks to aggressively expand services, domestic market share, and network, Mint had reported in February.

The company, which had a market share of 4.7% in August 2018, carried 537,000 passengers during the month, according to data from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

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