New Delhi: Air India's Chairman and Managing Director (CMD) Pradeep Singh Kharola is set to take over as the next Civil Aviation Secretary of India, the government announced late on Wednesday. The appointment was necessitated after former aviation secretary Rajiv Nayan Choubey retired in January. The timing of Kharola's appointment is crucial as the civil aviation sector has a bunch of challenges on its plate to address, including the financial woes of Jet Airways, issues with airport infrastructure and a revival plan to make Air India fir for privatisation.
A 1985-batch IAS officer of the Karnataka cadre, Kharola's last appointment was as the head of the loss-making national carrier Air India in November 2017. It was during his tenure as the CMD that the government attempted to privatise the airline but had to shelve the plan after it failed to find bidders. In addition to a renewed attempt to turn around Air India for privatisation, one of the major challenges for Kharola would be to improve infrastructure in one of the fastest growing aviation markets, globally.
On February 1, the government had pulled the plug on the budgetary support meant for a potential turnaround of Air India, signalling a possible urgency in its plans to privatise the airline. The allocation for Air India's turnaround plan fell to a mere Rs 1 lakh for 2019-20, from the Rs 3,975 crore earmarked in the revised budget figures for 2018-19. This came amid a sharp cut in the budgetary allocation for the civil aviation ministry from Rs 9,700 crore in 2018-19 to Rs 4,500 crore in 2019-20, in the interim budget presented last week by Finance Minister Piyush Goyal.
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