Air India's new CEO declines the offer, cites 'undesirable' narrative
Former Turkish Airlines Chairman Ilker Ayci was appointed Air India's Managing Director and CEO last month but he has declined the Tata Group’s offer to lead the airline.
Former Turkish Airlines Chairman Ilker Ayci was appointed Air India's Managing Director and CEO last month but he has declined the Tata Group's offer to lead the airline. The choice to rope in a Turkish national to run the airline was unconventional, even going by the Tata Group's history of expatriate appointments, certain aspects weighed in Ayci's favour. These included turning Turkish Airlines around after two major incidents — the 2016 Turkey coup, and the pandemic. A significant positive was the carrier's ability to see through the pandemic phase without making layoffs or taking any government bailouts. Also, Ayci's willingness to make a long-term commitment was a key advantage.
"My appointment as (CEO of) Air India within Tata Group was announced earlier in February, with a start date of April 1. Since the announcement, I have been sadly following news in some sections of the media attempting to colour my appointment with undesirable colours," Ayci said in a statement.
"As a business leader who has always prioritised professional credo and more importantly, the happiness and well-being of my family above all else, I have come to the conclusion that it would not be a feasible or honourable decision to accept the position in the shadow of such narrative," he said.
"I remain grateful to the Chairman of Tata Group, N Chandrasekaran, and the Tata Group for extending to me the honour and the opportunity to lead Air India. However, at a recent meeting with Chandrasekaran, Chairman of Tata Group, I regretfully informed him and I wish to inform the public, as well, that I will decline the position," the 51-year-old Turkish national said.
It is learnt that prior to naming Ayci for the post on February 14, the Tata Group sounded out senior officials in the Ministry of Civil Aviation. The announcement is learnt to have been made after an understanding that the selection would go through the required regulatory approvals.
A government official said the Tata Group had made its submission to the Ministry of Civil Aviation for approval, and the file was forwarded to the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) for security clearance. Amid the increasing opposition to Ayci's appointment, the MHA signalled its intent to "scrupulously" carry out a background check on Ayci.
For Ilker Ayci this was an "attempt" to paint his appointment "with undesirable colours". The Tata Group is understood to have restarted the process of selecting a new CEO for Air India, including considering candidates from within the conglomerate.