Pawan Arora to be new AI Express COO

Sept. 9, 2010


Sept. 09--NEW DELHI -- Air India's human resources committee has cleared the appointment of two key personnel at its international low-fare subsidiary Air India Express, which had been pulled up by the aviation regulator for workforce lacunae after a 22 May crash left 158 people dead.

Pawan K. Arora, who was fleet captain at the budget airline IndiGo, run by InterGlobe Aviation Pvt. Ltd, will be Air India Express's new chief operating officer. Stefan Sukumar, a Frankfurt-based aviation professional, will be the airline's chief training officer.

Air India Express, which flies mainly on West Asian routes, was reprimanded by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation for not complying with several safety norms and for lacking a dedicated chief trainer, as Mint reported last month.

The May crash in Mangalore of an Air India Express Boeing jet was the worst in India this decade.

The human resources committee was formed earlier this year with some of Air India's newly appointed independent board directors as members to clear the appointments. The directors include Amit Mitra, secretary-general of the industry lobby Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry, Ambuja Realty chairman Harsh Neotia and former air chief marshal Fali H. Major.

The committee met on Tuesday to clear the appointments, two government officials said.

"The appointments will need to be ratified by the board (of Air India), they can be rejected there if they want to," said one of the officials.

The compensation of the new appointees, considered to be high for a government-run airline that's struggling with accumulated losses and heavy debt, may be an issue.

Arora is likely to be hired for an annual salary of '1.2 crore, besides a variable allowance and other perks including free accommodation and business-class travel for a period of three years. Sukumar will be likely paid €200,000 ('1.19 crore) annually.

The second official said the new salaries were unprecedented in Air India, noting that the appointments come at a time when Air India is seeking a government equity infusion of '1,200 crore and should be trying to save costs.

"It is surprising that independent directors are not objecting to these things," the official said. "They are supposed to take an unbiased view and spearhead a turnaround."