Stock - Campbell Wilson
Campbell Wilson is Tata's choice to take over as CEO of Air India. The ex-Singapore Airlines official has all the credentials to steer the Indian flagship's new course. Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: After a long and arduous search, Indian conglomerate Tata has appointed Campbell Wilson as Air India’s new CEO. Wilson will be flying in from Scoot, the Singapore Airlines’ budget carrier, where he was serving as CEO.

Wilson, who is 50, has more than 25 years of aviation industry expertise across both full service and low-cost airlines. And his Scoot stint will come in handy too.

First, there’s an element of familiarity. Tata and Singapore Airlines (SIA) are joint venture partners in Vistara and the full-service carrier’s current head – Vinod Kannan – held the role of Chief Commercial Officer at Scoot from 2017-19. “Being an old Singapore Airlines hand, Wilson will help in boosting Air India’s service quality and upgrading the airline’s in-flight offerings – all of which the carrier badly needs,” said Ashwini Phadnis, an aviation analyst.

Wilson, who has years of experience working in the low-cost aviation market, could help Air India stay competitive in India’s domestic space. “It is a big plus in the Indian domestic market where low-cost airlines dominate,” he added. “Air India is a full-service airline and Wilson can work towards making it a hybrid on Scoot's model.”

Aborted move with Ilker Ayci

For months Tata has been looking for someone to take the top role. The latest announcement comes after former Turkish Airlines chairman Ilker Ayci declined to take the CEO position amid public outrage in India. While Ayci was a former bureaucrat with ample experience dealing with trade unions, Wilson brings a different set of skills to the table.

“I am delighted to welcome Campbell to Air India,” said N. Chandrasekaran, Chairman, Air India, in a statement. “He is an industry veteran having worked in key global markets cutting across multiple functions. Further, Air India would benefit from his added experience of having built an airline brand in Asia. I look forward to working with him in building a world-class airline.”

Air India, Air India aircraft
A need to get back to glory days. Since January, under Tata ownership, the airline has come up with some major internal changes. Campbell Wilson's entry will speed up the process. Image Credit: Shutterstock

Tata makes changes count at AI

Since taking over in January, Tata has introduced a slew of changes aimed at improving service. Air India has also announced that it would restore salaries of employees in a phased manner to pre-pandemic levels as the aviation sector recovers from the impact of the pandemic.

Wilson will have to come up with a strategy to plug Air India’s losses, which at one point amounted to $2 million a day. The spike in crude oil prices due to the ongoing Russia-Ukraine conflict is putting more pressure on airline margins and threatening to upend the industry’s recovery.

The new CEO will also have the task of making the airline competitive on routes to Africa and Southeast Asia, which are currently dominated by Gulf carriers. In the years of Air India’s decline, Emirates and Qatar Airways have become the airlines of choice for Indians doing long-haul travel.

Ilker Ayci
Ilker Ayci was the first choice after Air India made the switch to ownership under Tata Sons. That did not pan out the way Tata hoped for. Image Credit: ANI

Long tenure at Singapore Airlines

Wilson started off as a management trainee with SIA in New Zealand in 1996. He then worked for SIA in Canada, Hong Kong, and Japan before returning to Singapore in 2011 as founding CEO of Scoot, which he led until 2016. Wilson then served as the senior vice-president of sales & marketing of SIA, where he oversaw pricing, distribution, ecommerce, merchandising, brand and marketing, global sales, and the airline’s overseas offices, before returning for a second stint as the CEO of Scoot in April 2020.

Wilson holds a Master of Commerce in Business Administration from the University of Canterbury in New Zealand.

An appointment that went nowhere
In February, Tata Sons tapped Ilker Ayci for the role of Air India’s CEO, a move that was criticized by some sections of the India media.

On March 1, Ayci released the following statement: “Since the announcement, I have been carefully following news in some sections of the Indian media attempting to colour my appointment with undesirable colors. As a business leader who has always prioritised professional credo and more importantly, the happiness and well-being of my family above all else, 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.”