MUMBAI: Air India has appointed its first foreign chief executive after a previous pick from overseas backed out because of local opposition, new owners Tata Sons said Thursday. The new boss will be New Zealander Campbell Wilson, the former head of Singapore Airlines’ low-cost subsidiary Scoot, Tata Sons said in a statement.

After buying back Air India from the government after 69 years of state ownership, Tata in February selected former Turkish Airlines boss Ilker Ayci to help turn around the loss-making airline.

But a Hindu-nationalist group with close ties to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ruling party criticised the choice over Ayci’s connections to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Ayci soon withdrew after “closely following the efforts to give another meaning to my appointment”, Turkish media quoted him as saying.

“Air India is at the cusp of an exciting journey to become one of the best airlines in the world,” the Tata statement quoted Wilson as saying.

Tata regains Air India control

“I am excited to join Air India and Tata colleagues in the mission of realising that ambition,” the 50-year-old said.—AFP

REUTERS ADDS: Tata Sons completed its purchase of the previously state-owned Indian national carrier in January and has been searching for an executive to lead a major turnaround plan.

Singapore Airlines is Tata Sons’ joint venture partner in a separate Indian airline, Vistara, but did not join the bid for Air India. Analysts said Wilson’s appointment made a future merger between Air India and Vistara more likely.

Air India, with its maharajah mascot, was once renowned for its lavishly decorated planes and stellar service championed by the airline’s founder, JRD Tata, India’s first commercial pilot.

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