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An ailing airline turned operationally profitable, launched new services and strove to boost sagging employee morale under the watch of Ashwani Lohani, whose departure as Air India CMD was described by an official as "bad news" for the national carrier. Lohani is also likely to be the last full-time chairman and managing director of Air India under the complete ownership of government since the modalities of disinvestment of the carrier are being worked out. Affable as well as stern, Lohani sent out strong messages to the employees even as he made efforts to motivate them. When contacted for comments on Lohani's tenure, a senior Air India official's first remark was "bad news". "He (Lohani) was one of the best chairmen of the airline. His positive attitude is something that rubbed off on all of us.
He lifted the sagging morale of the employees," the official who has been closely associated with Lohani said.After being at the helm of the now operationally profitable Air India for almost two years, Lohani is taking over the reins of the Railway Board at a time of crisis for the country's largest transporter. Mostly clad in a white shirt, the unassuming Lohani strove to set things on the right trajectory at public money- funded Air India, with focus on employees and ways to streamline expenses. Under his tenure, which was to be two-years old on August 31, the airline not only turned operationally profitable but also launched new services on domestic as well as international routes, including Madrid and Vienna. Privately as well as publicly, Lohani has been of the view that debt was the main drag at the airline. Since taking over as the chief of beleaguered Air India in August 2015, Lohani steered the airline into operational profitability for the first time since 2007 when the Indian Airlines merger happened. The airline eked out an operational profit of Rs 105 crore in 2015-16 and the quantum rose to Rs 300 crore in the last financial year. He often took to Facebook and his personal blog to express his thoughts. The official cited earlier also said Lohani is possibly the only chairman who has shaken hands with almost every employee irrespective of their position, including loaders. A Railway Service officer, he took charge at the national airline in August 2015 when pilots' strike was looming. An engineer-turned-bureaucrat, Lohani was the first Railway Service officer to head the airline. A cursory look at Air India's finances in the last two years show that things are in better shape if not fully out of the woods. The net loss after tax narrowed to Rs 3,643 crore while operating profit rose to Rs 300 crore in the last financial year. During 2016-17, the carrier saw its total revenue, including exceptional and extraordinary items, climb to Rs 22,146 crore, as per provisional numbers provided by the civil aviation ministry last month. In 2015-16, the total revenue stood at Rs 20,524.56 crore. His latest blog, dated August 6, is titled Moving towards a clean India. So far this year, he has penned only one post on his blog named Think. Lohani had also headed the Madhya Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation. The Air India board chaired by Lohani has a total of eight members. Apart from him, there are two government nominees and two independent directors -- Ravindra Kumar Tyagi and Syed Zafar Islam. The government nominees are Gargi Kaul and Satyendra Kumar Mishra, both joint secretaries at the civil aviation ministry. The three others are Pankaj Srivastava (director- commercial), Vinod Hejmadi (director-finance) and Arvind Kathpalia (director-operations).