Nearly six months after its last MD and chief executive officer (CEO) quit, AirAsia India has picked Tata Steel’s Sunil Bhaskaran to head the budget airline. Bhaskaran will be AirAsia India’s third CEO in about five years, after Mittu Chandilya who served for less than three years, and Amar Abrol who quit in May this year.
A Tata veteran, Bhaskaran, is currently vice president, corporate services at Tata Steel, and has over three decades of experience in manufacturing, export and commercial operations with the group.
The budget airline, a joint venture between Tata Sons and Malaysian AirAsia Group Bhd, said in a statement that Bhaskaran’s appointment will come into effect from November 15, and he will oversee the next phase of expansion and growth of the company.
Bhaskaran will be taking over an airline that has been under the scanner for some time now. In May, the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) registered a first information report (FIR) against AirAsia Group chief Tony Fernandes for bribing government officials in order to obtain flying licences and changing regulations. The CBI also filed a case against R. Venkataramanan, managing trustee of Tata Trusts, and Tharumalingam Kanagalingam, deputy group CEO (operations), AirAsia, and three others.
The CBI in its FIR alleged that Kanagalingam and Travel Food Services chairman Sunil Kapur bribed government officials to remove the 5/20 rule, which only allowed airlines with five years of operational experience and a fleet of at least 20 aircraft to fly to international destinations.
Soon after, the Enforcement Directorate (ED), too, filed a case of money laundering against AirAsia India officials. The charges have been denied by both AirAsia Group and Tata Trusts.