Ashwani Lohani has been appointed as Air India CMD. The PM-headed Appointments Committee of the Cabinet took the call, handing over the reins of Air India to Lohani for “a period of one year or until further order.” He is being accorded with the status of secretary to the government of India which takes care of his seniority post-retirement. The move could inject a new vibrancy in the national carrier that has hit a new rough patch in recent months, given the rise in oil prices, an overall shortage of pilots, and an increase in capacity and competition. The distribution aspect has also been a major issue.
The optimism in the former Railway Board Chairman is well founded because his previous stint in Air India was good, to say the least. He tackled legacy issues head-on, streamlined operations, cut down expenditure and introduced a new work culture in the airline. Several media reports have suggested that he had been in constant dialogue with his staff, putting to use innovative means such as WhatsApp groups. He also paved way for introducing new routes to Europe and North America, most notably non-stops to San Francisco from Delhi. His well-rounded interventions resulted in the airline notching up a 100+ crore operating profit in 2015-16.
The national carrier is facing headwinds again. Government’s multiple interventions to disinvest the airline has found little traction. Only recently, the government offered to sell 100 per cent stake in the airline’s subsidiary Air India Air Transport Services Ltd (AIATSL), further offloading assets. Goldman Sachs’s prediction that oil could touch 70$ a barrel in coming months only adds more concern to an already plate-full. Amidst the upheaval, Lohani’s steady hands will do Air India a world of good.