New AI chief: govt may stay with public sector

New AI chief: govt may stay with public sector

State-owned carrier Air India may not, after all, get its next top executive from the private sector, as initially suggested by the civil aviation ministry.

The domestic carrier Indian Airlines Ltd and Air India Ltd were merged in August this year into National Aviation Company of India Ltd (Nacil) to be run under the Air India brand. The government approved Air India chairman Vasudevan Thulasidas, 59, to head the new entity with the Indian Airlines’s chairman Vishwapati Trivedi, 53, as a joint managing director through March.

With that deadline just a few months away, the government has appointed a search panel headed by cabinet secretary K. Chandrashekhar to pick the next head.

According to a top government official familiar with process but who did not wish to be quoted, the government has since given up on the idea of recruiting outside the government. “It is not possible in the (given) system," the official said without elaborating. The post, he said, could also be bifurcated and the new person will have to be someone with a public sector background.

The new eligibility criteria to head the country’s oldest airline requires the candidate to at least be of an additional secretary rank with a background in economics, prior experience of running a public sector company, and an understanding of the civil aviation sector, according to a senior civil aviation official who also preferred to remain anonymous.

It is unclear if Trivedi, who has another seven years until he hits a mandatory retirement age, is in contention for the top job. A 1977 batch IAS officer, Trivedi appears to meet the eligibility requirements, with his London School of Eonomics degree, a public sector background as well as adequate civil aviation experience.

Meanwhile, it is also unclear if Thulasidas, who got an extension in December, would get another extension, allowing the government to maintain a statusquo at the top. The search panel is likely to meet later this month.

The merger and integration are likely to be completed by 2009 after which the airline plans to sell some shares, civil aviation minister Praful Patel has previously said.

“Whenever there is a merger, you need a person who has a long-term interest in the company," said a Delhi-based aviation expert who did not wished to be quoted, “Public sector or private sector does not matter. In the public sector, many of the executives are not able to show their true potential in view of the difficult working environment. The unions, vigilance, and strong hold of outsiders are the major roadblocks. We need a very powerful person here who has at least a reasonable tenure of five years to steer the merger, since the two airlines have a different work culture."