Air India Ltd’s chairman and managing director Pradeep Singh Kharola will be the new civil aviation secretary. Kharola’s appointment, announced on Wednesday, follows the superannuation of former aviation secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey in January.
He will take charge of a sector mired in the financial troubles of Jet Airways (India) Ltd, issues with airport infrastructure and a potential revival plan to privatize the national carrier.
Kharola, a 1985 batch IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre, was appointed the head of the loss-making Air India in November 2017. It was during Kharola’s tenure that the government had failed in its maiden attempt to privatize the national carrier.
In addition to a renewed attempt to privatize Air India, Kharola’s challenges could include improving infrastructure in one of the fastest growing aviation markets, globally.
On 1 February, the government had scrapped the budgetary support meant for a potential turnaround of Air India, signalling a possible firming up of plans to privatize the airline. The allocation for Air India’s turnaround plan fell to a mere ₹1 lakh for 2019-20, from the ₹3,975 crore earmarked in the revised budget figures for 2018-19. This came amid a sharp cut in the budgetary allocation for the civil aviation ministry from ₹9,700 crore in 2018-19 to ₹4,500 crore in 2019-20, in the interim budget presented last week by finance minister Piyush Goyal.
“The biggest challenge for India’s aviation sector is air-side infrastructure. Across the country, the government has failed to live up to its primary responsibility of providing adequate air-side infrastructure to meet India’s aviation growth rates," said aviation analyst Devesh Agarwal, who runs the blog Bangalore Aviation.