Wednesday, December 06, 2017

What good comes from putting Pradeep Singh Kharola at helm of Air India?

New Delhi: It's a promising start of innings for Pradeep Singh Kharola, the Karnataka cadre IAS officer, who's just about to take charge at the state-owned Air India. The national carrier topped the list of quietest and cleanest airlines in the quarterly ranking of the second-busiest airport in the world - Heathrow airport. Air India primarily flies Boeing Dreamliners to Heathrow that has 20-25 per cent lesser emission footprint and has a smaller noise effect. Its private sector rival Jet Airways is ranked 41 in the listing of 50 airlines.
Kharola's entry in to the Air India is taking place just when the national carrier prepares for its second disinvestment attempt in less than two decades. In June, finance minister Arun Jaitley had said that the disinvestment of the loss-making Air India is on the cards. According to Jaitley, private carriers already have 86-87 per cent market share, and could also handle 100 per cent flying.
While Kharola is yet to assume charge at the national carrier, his appointment seems inexplicable given that the current Air India head Rajiv Bansal was given a three-month extension on November 24, four days prior to the Kharola's announcement. Kharola is believed to be a turnaround expert. What's the point in appointing a turnaround expert when the government has already decided to sell Air India? In the past, several attempts to turn around the airline have failed miserably. The need of having a turnaround expert is long gone.
At this stage, the role of the Air India chief is, strictly speaking, restricted. He may not have leeway to make significant changes in the airline. His job is to just to keep the airline's market share intact (at 13-14 per cent), and do some minor tinkering here and there. Not just for this reason alone, Bansal would have continued with that job because he was actually preparing the ground for the airline's disinvestment.
For instance, there are reports that Bansal had constituted five project teams - in areas like finance; human resources; properties and facilities; bilateral slots and commercial agreements; and secretarial and procedural matters - to look into the different parts of the disinvestment.
05/12/17 Manu Kaushik/Business Today