Ilker Ayci steps back from accepting the top job at Air India

The alternate headline for this article was going to be Ilker Ayci resigns before he signs up for the Air India top job, but that was already taken. Yesterday, Ilker Ayci issued a statement that maintained that he will not be turning up for the top job at Air India.

Ilker Ayci was the surprise candidate to be picked to head Air India and the announcement of his appointment was made by the Tata Group in mid-February 2022. Since then, a lot of digging happened into his past life, and that seemed to upset the applecart.

a man in a suit and tie

First and foremost, I’m surprised that a prestigious executive search firm hired for the assignment did not turn all the stones and do a fitment with the group ethos and so on with respect to the assignment. Unless they and the Tata group did not really think it was going to be a problem. Going by media reports, five names were enlisted (including that of Alex Cruz), and the group decided to appoint Ilker Ayci, who is actually a bit wet between his ears in terms of aviation experience.

Someone decided to credit him with a turnaround of Turkish Airlines, but Turkish was already one of the top 15 carriers in the world when he arrived on the scene in the mid-2010s. From there, he built on the geographic advantage of the airline and expanded operations even more.

But I digress. Eventually, his past connections with the Turkish ruling dispensation became a problem, as the Indian media talked about it after the announcement was made. Whether it was the call by some political parties or was it the background check as is required by law that was the eventual death knell we won’t know.

In his statement, Ayci said,

I have come to the conclusion that it would not be a feasible or an honourable decision to accept the position in the shadow of such a narrative. My appointment at Air India within Tata Group was announced earlier in February, with a start date of April 1st. Since the announcement, I have been carefully following news in some sections of the Indian media attempting to color my appointment with undesirable colors.

I’m surprised that a business leader if he is one, backed off from a potential assignment just because he did not like the media that came around his appointment. In a way, it is good for him because he dodged a bullet because what if he couldn’t deliver the results asked of him and the media scrutinised him after a year. You get the gist.

Air India, on the other hand, is back to where it started, without a leader, for the time being. Someone put the whole situation better in one line.



Ilker Ayci, the CEO-designate of Air India, has decided to back off from the appointment. This brings back Air India to where they were about a month ago, to hunt for another top person for Air India. I hope their approach this time is adjusted for the political sensitivity and the aviation chops of the next leader they would want to appoint at the airline.

What did you think of Ayci coming over at Air India, and of him eventually backing off?

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About Ajay

Ajay Awtaney is the Founder and Editor of Live From A Lounge (LFAL), a pioneering digital platform renowned for publishing news and views about aviation, hotels, passenger experience, loyalty programs, travel trends and frequent travel tips for the Global Indian. He is considered the Indian authority on business travel, luxury travel, frequent flyer miles, loyalty credit cards and travel for Indians around the globe. Ajay is a frequent contributor and commentator on the media as well, including ET Now, BBC, CNBC TV18, NDTV, Conde Nast Traveller and many other outlets.

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  1. I don’t understand this.

    On one hand the people who busy talk of privatization busy claim that “Govt has no business being in business”.

    But on the other hand the Govt is still meddling in decisions taken by a private entity.

    If the Govt still wants to meddle with what decisions a private company makes, then let it still continue to be owned by the Govt.

    So it seems that Govt has no business being in business. but every business is Govts business.

    A private enterprise cannot hire a person, which the enterprise deems independently to be the most eligible.

    We should be a free nation, where enterprises and individuals should be able to chose whatever they wish to.

    Any obstruction to this is curtailing of individual and collective freedoms.

    And if there are any security concerns, then one should not sell any PSUs.

    • The government needs a say on these decisions, in principle. It’s not just Air India, the CEO of any company operating in a sector sensitive to national interests, has to be vetted by the Home Ministry. It’s easy to make sweeping generalizations about government overreach without understanding the actual process involved.

      That said, let’s not discount Egon Zehnder’s expertise and Bombay House’s intelligence here. The facts relating to Mr. Ayci’s alliances are publicly available and must have shown up on the radars of the professionals involved in selecting him for this position. It’s likely the decision was taken based on the fact that it was believed that the Government would grant the requisite security clearances. In fact, unless there are facts that the public isn’t privy too, I believe Mr. Ayci withdrew his name (or was asked to) from consideration before the entire clearance procedure was completed.

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