Air India was recently privatized, after being government-owned and losing money for years. The airline has been purchased by Tata Group, which also holds majority stakes in both Vistara and AirAsia India. A couple of weeks ago the airline announced its new CEO, and he has already resigned… before even starting the job.
Air India’s new Turkish CEO won’t take job after all
In mid-February, Ilkey Ayci was appointed Air India CEO, with the plan being for him to start his job as of April 2022. He was the Chairman of Turkish Airlines from 2015 until 2022, and prior to that held several senior roles in the Turkish government, including being the President of the Prime Ministry Investment Support and Promotion Agency of Turkey.
Now Ayci has announced that he doesn’t intend to become Air India CEO after all. As he explained:
“I have come to the conclusion that it would not be a feasible or an honourable decision to accept the position in the shadow of such a narrative. My appointment at Air India within Tata Group was announced earlier in February, with a start date of April 1st. Since the announcement, I have been carefully following news in some sections of the Indian media attempting to color my appointment with undesirable colors.”
So, what exactly is going on here? There were claims in the media that Ayci being appointed to this position presented “national security” issues. His appointment is subject to regulatory approval, including a background check by the Ministry of Home Affairs.
Apparently there were concerns about Ayci’s close relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, given that he acted in an advisory role to Erdogan in the past.
Okay, I can totally appreciate the challenge there, and I’m no Erdogan fan. But exactly how much research is Tata Group doing before appointing a new CEO? You don’t have to look past Ayci’s Wikipedia page to see this close ties to Erdogan. You would think that would have been determined before he resigned from his old job and was offered a new job.
It’s anyone’s guess whether Ayci actually decided he didn’t want the job because of some media reports (which seems questionable, since I imagine he has thicker skin), or if he was asked to step back.
The role of Air India CEO is a tough one to fill
I’d love to see Air India be turned around and become a great airline, but there’s no denying that this is a massive task. There’s so much to be done, and in many ways Air India would be better off just shutting down and starting over. The airline has an aging fleet, outdated inflight products, labor issues, and an uncompetitive cost structure.
I can’t help but wonder who is going to be appointed to this position next. Will Air India try to appoint another foreigner, or will the airline look for local talent this time? The issue here is that even if someone is a very capable leader, Air India succeeding is far from a sure bet. Accepting this job is a gamble in terms of reputation and future career prospects, assuming this isn’t your last planned gig in the industry. Speaking of which, I think Doug Parker has some free time on his hands now?
Air India’s newly appointed CEO has already resigned before even starting in his role. Apparently there were concerns about the former Turkish Airlines Chairman’s close ties to Turkish President Erdogan. On the surface that’s fair enough, though I’m not sure why this only came up after he was appointed to the role, and after he quit his job at Turkish Airlines?
Who do you think Air India should appoint as CEO?
(Tip of the hat to Neeraj)