New Delhi: AirAsia India, the new joint venture airline that AirAsia Bhd and Tata Sons Ltd propose to launch has started approaching top aviation executives in India, as it attempts to build its team ahead of a nod from the government, according to two people familiar with the matter who asked not to be identified.
The fate of AirAsia’s proposal will be decided by the government on 6 March, but the partners have already scheduled interviews with potential hires this week, indicating their confidence of receiving a clearance.
“They have started approaching people and seeking interest,” said a top executive with an Indian airline who was approached by AirAsia India. He spoke on the condition of anonymity.
A second executive, at a different airline, said he too had been approached by the company and that AirAsia India seems to be “very actively” pursuing candidates. He too asked not to be identified.
This person added that a team from AirAsia Kuala Lumpur will be in India later this week to participate in interviews with short-listed candidates.
An AirAsia spokesman declined to comment on the matter.
A third person familiar with the matter said AirAsia India may look at a CEO from AirAsia Bhd, probably at a Malyasian Indian. This person also didn’t want to be named.
Air Asia CEO Tony Fernandes is of Indian descent—his father was from Goa.
Once the government gives its approval for the venture, AirAsia India will need to seek permission from the civil aviation ministry for an airline licence, at which time it will have to show that it has the management bandwidth to run the airline. The heads of safety, operations, engineering, commercial and finance will be the key positions the airline will be looking to fill.
Mohandas Pai, chairman of Manipal Global Education and former HR head at Infosys Ltd, said AirAsia India should hire, “people who believe in frugal management—not the usual Tata management style—aggressive and more passionate.”
AirAsia India may find the going easier when it comes to filling middle and junior positions, said a foreign airline executive who tracks India closely but asked not to be named, referring to hundreds of Kingfisher Airlines Ltd employees looking for a job.
“They will have trained people available to them at a relatively low rate, including engineers, pilots, etc., and all of them familiar with Airbus A320s. This was not always the case,” this person said.
The financially troubled Kingfisher Airlines has been grounded since October, initially because of labour unrest and later on account of regulatory issues.
Tata Sons chairman emeritus Ratan Tata met aviation minister Ajit Singh in Delhi on Friday to discuss the plan, Mint reported on 2 February, citing a ministry official who didn’t want to be named.
AirAsia has said it will hold a 49% stake in the proposed joint venture, Tata Sons will own 30%, and Arun Bhatia of Telestra Tradeplace Pvt. Ltd will hold the rest. Bhatia and a Malaysian representative of AirAsia also met Singh on Friday, said the official cited above.
The Foreign Investment Promotion Board is to take up the Air Asia application on 6 March.
The Air Asia proposal comes as Etihad Airways PJSC and Jet Airways (India) Ltd are said to be close to a deal in which the Abu Dhabi-based airline takes a 24% stake in in the Indian carrier.
The Air Asia venture plans to start flights at the year-end with three-four planes and an initial investment of about $30 million. It will operate from Chennai and focus on providing domestic connectivity to tier-II and tier-III cities, a statement by the Malaysian airline said last week.