MUMBAI :Tata Sons Ltd is faced with a fresh crisis at Air India Ltd, with the airlines newly appointed chief executive turning down the role before even taking charge.Ilker Ayci, former chairman of Turkish Airlines, cited political controversies, in a statement, for declining the assignment. His decision leaves the new owner of Air India with the fresh challenge of hunting for a new leader of the recently privatized airline.Known as a turnaround expert, Aycis appointment, announced soon after Tata Sons took over Air India in January, sparked hopes of fast recovery of the airline grappling with an ageing aircraft fleet, mounting debt and several legacy issues arising from its workers unions.But just a fortnight into his appointment, Ayci declined to take up the role on Tuesday. His decision may hurt Tatas ambition to quickly turn around Air Indias fortunes and help the company regain the market share it ceded to rivals.Aycis appointment faced opposition from certain political corners due to his association with allegedly questionable entities in his past avatar as Turkeys flag carrier chief.
A right-wing group close to the Bharatiya Janata Party asked the government to block the appointment, citing Aycis previous political connections in Turkey.The economic wing of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), the ideologue of the BJP, demanded background checks for Ayci before he assumed charge at Air India since Ayci before the stint at Turkish Airlines was an adviser to Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan when he was the mayor of Istanbul in the mid- 1990s.Erdogan, a close Pakistan ally, had earlier raised the issue of Jammu and Kashmir in the United Nations, leading to strong objections from the Indian government.I have come to the conclusion that it would not be feasible or an honourable decision to accept the position in the shadow of such a narrative," Ayci said in his statement.
Tata Sons declined to comment on the development.Ayci, who led Turkish Airlines for over six years from 2015, was to assume charge of Air India from 1 April. However, the appointment was pending regulatory approvals.His selection announced on 14 February by Tata Sons ushered in a ray of hope for Air Indias employees and thousands of flyers.At the time, Ayci said his ambition was to make Air India one of the best airlines in the world".If he accepted the role, Ayci would have faced the monumental task of reviving a legacy-laden, cash-strapped and ageing carrier.Tata took control of Indias flag carrier for $2.
4 billion in January, ending decades of attempts by the government to privatize the airline to stop the flow of public money to run the airline.Losing Ayci could be a setback for both the government and the Tata groups common dream to see Air India back in form to compete with the glamour of other private carriers and protect its market share. This is especially true because of how Ayci reversed the fortunes for Turkish Airlines.Turkish Airlines struggled like many other carriers in the first year of the coronavirus outbreak, with air traffic revenues vanishing due to a global lockdown.
Ayci helped Turkish Airlines recover quickly by reducing staff costs and capitalizing on the thriving air freight business.Bloomberg contributed to the copy.Never miss a story! Stay connected and informed with Mint. Download our App Now!!