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Pilots on strike, and Air India wants ex-pilot as COO

New Delhi: In the midst of pilot turbulence, Air India has sought to hire a chief operating officer (COO) with requirements that largely suit a retired pilot.

The airline, which had a disastrous experience the last time it hired an expat COO for Air India and another COO for low-cost arm Air India Express, has had to modify the requirements after getting virtually no response to an earlier vacancy announcement some months back.

 Pilots on strike, and Air India wants ex-pilot as COO

In a tailspin. PTI

The position of COO is being created at a time when the government has cleared a Rs 30,000 crore bailout package for the airline but Air India is facing a severe crisis because of pilot unrest. Also, the COO will come in after Air India has been cut to size, with two subsidiaries being created to absorb 19,000 employees.

It is surprising to note that the COO's job that is being advertised is not being offered any commercial responsibility - which means responsibility for day-to-day operations. But the modified criteria for this position clearly indicate that the candidate should be a former, experienced pilot.

Has the airline modified the requirements to suit some former, high-profile pilots who may want to return in this executive role?

According to the ad released on Friday, the COO will be paid a fixed salary in the range of Rs 40-60 lakh a year (this will form 60 percent of the salary). The balance 40 percent of salary will be variable, depending on performance and will be decided by the airline's board of directors.

The candidate has to be a commercial pilot with a minimum of 10,000 hours of flying experience, of which 5,000 hours are as a commander. A senior Air India official pointed out that the modified ad has raised the minimum age for such candidates from 45 years earlier to 50 years. The main job of this COO will be to oversee flight safety, ground operations and flight training.

Already, Air India Express is facing uncertainty with COO S Chandrakumar seeking voluntary retirement. The senior Air India official was set to retire in April 2013 but will now leave in July. He confirmed the move to Firstpost. A Hindustan Times report earlier this week quoted company sources to say that parent Air India's hold over decision-making at AI Express and internal politics may have led to Chandrakumar seeking premature retirement. So in all probability, AI Express will also need to look out for a new COO soon.

Air India's experience with COOs has not been a good one. In 2011, Air India Express COO Pawan Arora was sacked by the board at the ministry's behest after issues were raised on his qualification for the job and 'exorbitant' salary. This, after Arora had been selected with much fanfare from a list of 170 candidates and was seen turning around an ailing AI Express.

Around the same time, Air India's COO Gustav Baldauf was also made to resign by the airline board amid charges of incompetence and again his "exorbitant' salary. Along with Chief of Training Stefan Sukumar (who was also sacked), the airline was paying the sacked trio about Rs 8 crore annually. But after these exits, all the 'outsiders' who had been recruited to turn around the ailing airline were removed.

Since then, insiders have been promoted to look after key functions. It remains to be seen if this ghetto mentality at the national carrier once again prevents any professional from improving Air India's fortunes.

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Updated Date: Dec 20, 2014 08:19:33 IST

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