AirAsia India faces churn at the top with 4 senior positions remain vacant

With the glare of investigating agencies on the company, AirAsia India is finding it tough to attract and retain employees. At its Bangalore-based headquarters, the airline has four senior managerial positions vacant. 

The airline is hunting for a new commercial head after Kiran Jain has been given a new role to head government liasoning. “Kiran has moved to Delhi and has taken charge as director, government affairs. While she is also heading the commercial department with dual charge, the airline is looking for a new commercial head,” said a person aware of the developments.

The company’s CEO Amar Abrol resigned last month and is on notice period. 

Simultaneously, the airline’s revenue management team doesn't have any head officer and Srihari Venugopal, head of route revenue has been transferred to AirAsia’s group headquarters in Kuala Lumpur. The shuffling of senior executives between India and the group headquarter has raised eyebrows as the transfers come at a crucial time when the airline is planning its international operations. 

Similarly, Kesavan Sivanandam, who led the airport’s ground operations has been shifted to group headquarter Kuala Lumpur to lead ground operations there. Sivanandam has been with the airline since inception and played a crucial role in developing the airline’s home base in Bengaluru.

Sources say that Rahul Gupta, head of the sales at the airline has put in papers recently and is serving his notice period. Guota had joined the airline only a year back.

Churnings have been frequent at AirAsia India and experts have blamed it as one primary reason why its operations have not grown as expected. After four years of operations, the airline has a modest five per cent share of the domestic market. Despite having the comfort of benign fuel price in its favour, the airline has been unable to find a foothold in what is considered one of the toughest aviation markets in the world. In its four years of operations, the airline has seen two CEOs, three CFO and multiple changes in roles of crucial departmental heads. An AirAsia India spokesperson refused to comment citing them as internal matters of the company.

However, a senior official of the company said that the despite the changes, daily operations at the airline are running smooth. “All the important decisions concerning the day-to-day operations of the airlines are taken by the board under the direction of the respective boards of directors,” the official said. It is learnt S Ramadorai, Director of AirAsia who also owns a minor stake in the company is personally managing the operations.

There have been accusations that in the subversion of India’s aviation laws, AirAsia India’s core operations like revenue management, network planning and finance are controlled from Malaysia. The Central Bureau of Investigation has booked AirAsia group CEO Tony Fernandes, R Venkataramanan, managing trustee of Tata Trust among others for trying to bribe senior government officials to change regulations in favour of AirAsia India. 

AirAsia India since inception has been struggling with the problem of talent retention as multiple controversies have hit the airline’s growth and operations. “The airline’s initial team was set up with former Kingfisher employees. It has failed to attract any meaningful talent as there is a perception that the India team will always play a second fiddle to its Malaysian parent, now with regulatory hurdles increasing it’s more difficult to do find suitable people despite the Tata brand being associated,” said a senior executive of a rival airline.  The airline in the middle of last year faced a spate of resignations after five senior executives put in papers in quite succession.