'Sacked' Arora still charts AI Express plans

Written by Shaheen Mansuri | Mumbai | Updated: Nov 30 2010, 03:40am hrs
It seems to be business as usual for Pawan Arora, the chief operating officer at Air India (AI) Express, AIs low cost subsidiary, who was sacked earlier this month. According to sources, Arora, recently met senior officials of various departments at AI Express and had elaborate discussions on measures that can enhance the operational efficiencies of the carrier.

An official who attended one such meeting with Arora said on the condition of anonymity, Arora discussed at length how he wants to build an organisational structure to improve safety values all across. He is keen on formalising standard operating procedures and training manuals, amongst other decisions. In May, an AI Express flight from Dubai had overshot the runway at Mangalore airport and crashed, killing most on board, highlighting the need to beef up safety measures. The official added that Arora also stressed on improving flight utilisation hours from the current 9 hours to 11.

When contacted on Aroras continuance, an AI Express spokesperson said, We did not issue any statement on the sacking or exit of Arora. He is very much there in that position and we will not recruit anyone to that post as of now.

Air Chief Marshal (retired) Fali H Major, an independent director on the AI board said, The board, at its recent meeting, had taken a decision to sack Arora. However, it is the discretion of the AI management and the ministry to take action on it. We do not interfere in the day-to-day affairs of the airline.

The management and the government, however, seem to be in no hurry to act on the boards recommendations, reflecting the severe differences of opinion among board members on the matter. Reportedly, AI chairman and managing director Arvind Jadhav was also unhappy with the recommendations.

The appointment of Arora had raised a storm for a number of reasons, including his large salary package, despite the airline reporting a loss of Rs 5,551 crore in FY 2009-10.

When contacted, Arora declined to comment.

Arora is believed to have been hired at a salary of Rs 1.9 crore and recommended by Air India COO, Gustav Baldauf. Certain independent directors on the AI board are said to have raised objections to this appointment, which resulted in a recommendation of Aroras termination. The AI board also recommended that the selection process of chief training officer Stephan Sukumar be reviewed. Aroras appointment got embroiled in a controversy after details surfaced that he had been removed from the position of test pilot by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation. Following this, the civil aviation ministry asked the AI board to reconsider his appointment. However, AIs top management stoutly defended Aroras appointment, saying allegations against him were false.

Earlier, Baldauf had defended Aroras recruitment as necessary for the airlines turnaround plan. He had said that AI is in the process of re-positioning AI Express, which necessitated the appointment of a separate COO. I need a good team. I dont want to play an India game, I want to look at the entire global market for AI, Baldauf had said earlier, explaining that the bigger picture is to be a market leader and a global network airline for the national carrier.