Ashwani Lohani back on home turf, to steer Railways

Ashwini Phadnis New Delhi | Updated on January 09, 2018

Ashwani Lohani

Ashwani Lohani, CMD of Air India. File Photo

Ashwani Lohani, CMD of Air India. File Photo

After a two-year stint as Chairman and Managing Director of Air India, Ashwani Lohani is returning to what many believe is his first love — the Railways.

Late on Wednesday, Lohani was appointed Chairman of the Railway Board, a position which, if the grapevine is to be believed, he was eyeing for some time now.

Lohani’s stay at Air India can best be summed as a mixed bag. Lohani spent his time at the airline expanding its flight path. Under his leadership, the airline spread its wings internationally, including starting a non-stop service linking India with San Francisco. Flights were launched to Vienna, Stockholm and Madrid, among other international destinations.

Aircraft maintenance

A man from the Indian Railways Service Mechanical Engineers, Lohani ensured that aircraft maintenance was streamlined — something which helped the national carrier pull out two Boeing 747, 1 Boeing 777 Extended Range aircraft and five Airbus A-320 aircraft for Haj operations and carry a record 50,000 passengers this year from 12 Indian cities. The emphasis on streamlined aircraft maintenance engineering also saw the daily aircraft utilisation of the fleet reach 12.6 hours a day per aircraft, up from 11 hours a day per aircraft when Lohani joined Air India.

However, many eyebrows were raised and questions still remain about how Air India expanded its footprint in the domestic market under the Government’s policy of connecting unconnected towns (UDAN). Though the airline became the only one to provide an air connection to Shimla when it restarted its flight to the hill station, there are many who are questioning what this expansion will do to the airline which is already reeling under an over ₹50,000-crore debt.

The high point of Lohani’s tenure in the state-owned airline was probably when he stood behind an Air India employee who was allegedly assaulted by a Shiv Sena Member of Parliament. Backing the employee, an FIR was lodged and Air India decided not to fly the MP, something which the other domestic airlines quickly followed.

However, the manner in which Lohani accepted a letter from the Ministry asking him to withdraw the ban order on flying the MP did not go down well with Air India’s employees as they saw this as succumbing to Government pressure.

Air India divestment

While Lohani did manage to successfully launch flights, his biggest failure will be in preventing the Government from going ahead with Air India’s divestment. This failure will probably rankle Lohani as he was able to convince the Vajpayee Government to take up divestment of Hotel Ashok. Many say it was Lohani who managed to get it done as he was close to the Government and heading ITDC, which at that time operated Ashoka Hotel.

Published on August 23, 2017

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