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[NEW DELHI] India is betting on a former railway bureaucrat who styles himself as "Mr Turnaround" to fix the financial troubles of debt-burdened national carrier Air India, which last made a profit in 2007.
Ashwani Lohani, whose past roles include stints at India's railways and a regional tourism board, will take over as chairman and managing director next week, an Air India spokesman said on Friday.
He has a tough task ahead. Once India's biggest carrier, Air India's market share has tumbled to about 15 per cent amid rising competition from nimbler private sector rivals. It is sitting on 500 billion rupees (US$7.6 billion) of debt and annual interest costs of $600 million are hampering investment in its revival.
The airline, which received a US$5.8 billion government bailout in 2012, is expected to report another operational loss for the 2014-15 fiscal year when it announces its results next month, a senior executive told Reuters.
The executive said the continued modernisation of its fleet, a plan to sell property assets worth US$60 million and lower fuel costs should help the airline return to profitability under the new boss this year. "We are very upbeat that the trend will continue (under Lohani)," said the executive, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak to the media. "We want to focus on getting the airline back to profitability." Mr Lohani describes himself as "Mr Turnaround" on his page on networking site Linkedin, largely for his work boosting tourism in India's Madhya Pradesh state.
He did not respond to a request for comment.