Wednesday, February 13, 2019

Modi brings back Ashwani Lohani as Air India chairman

New Delhi: "Turnaround specialist" Ashwani Lohani is back as Air India chairman. The move has taken place with Prime Minister Modi's approval. Last year's failed divestment bid showed that AI needs to be in a much better shape operationally before it can ever find a buyer. And the government feels Lohani is the captain most likely to bring AI to cruising altitude by steering it through turbulence.

First appointed as AI CMD by the Modi government in September 2015, Lohani was moved as Railway Board chairman in November, 2017. He retired as Railway Board chairman on December 31, 2018, and has now been brought back to head AI after the government's plan to sell off the airline came to a cropper last year.

The Appointment Committee of the Cabinet, that is headed by the PM, on Wednesday issued the order appointing Lohani as CMD for "a period of one year or until further order". The AI chairman's post had fallen vacant on January 31, 2019, when then CMD P S Kharola was made aviation secretary.
Lohani's reappointment as CMD led to cheer in the airline as in his slightly over two-year term in AI he had managed to revive employees' morale and thereby considerably improve the airline's operational performance. He started the Delhi-San Francisco nonstop in winter of 2015 as a thrice weekly flight. That flight is such a hit now that AI currently operates this route nine times a week and still most seats for this summer are sold out. AI's success on this route has led to US major United deciding to operate this route on a seasonal basis from this winter.

The defining moment came in March 2017 when Shiv Sena MP Ravindra Gaikwad threatened to beat up an AI staffer inside an aircraft with his slippers. In a first for any Indian carrier ever, Lohani-led AI decides not to allow Gaikwad on its flights -- this at a time when India did not have the concept of a no fly list and also filed a police complaint against the MP. Later other airlines also decided they will it fly Gaikwad. The ban on flying the MP lasted a few weeks before it was lifted.

"Lohani revived the morale of the employees and made them believe AI could be revived. His human touch came as a booster shot to the airline. When he was moved to Railway Board, the employees felt very dejected," said a senior official.
13/02/19 Saurabh Sinha/Times of India

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