According to sources, the current Executive Director for Operations Captain R.S. Sandhu has in the past allegedly been hand-in-glove with a particular pilots' union.
"He was terminated once due to his close association with one of the pilots' unions. He had sided with this union during a strike. Now as a member of senior management, how can we trust him not to repeat the past incident?" sources said adding that Sandhu is one of the frontrunner candidates for the post.
"After the strike, he was reinstated back but only after a deal was struck between the management and the union. These past incidents are serious and must not be ignored."
When contacted, Sandhu did not give any comments or his version of events.
However, a senior Air India executive on condition of anonymity said: "He became a GM in 2018 and then officiated the post of ED Operations in 2019 and finally became a ED in 2020. In all this time he has taken impartial decisions and not been vengeful against anyone."
"This is a clear case of a slugfest for the top job. He is not officiating any post as of now."
The event in reference is from 2011, when a pilots' union of erstwhile Indian Airlines' went on strike.
Subsequently, Sandhu was terminated as deputy general manager operations in April 2011, when he openly sided with the erstwhile Indian Airlines pilots' demand to get parity with those from IPG.
However, in May after a settlement was reached between the union and the airline, Sandhu was reinstated.
Interestingly, this past incident among some others have been in public knowledge but it is only now that some quarters of the airline have started to speak about these.
Nevertheless, another source in the airline said the post of Director Operations is vacant since March-end and the selection process has been stalled due to the coronavirus pandemic and the airline's divestment process.
"Therefore, no recruitment to this position is taking place as of now," the second source said.
Last year in December, the Ministry of Civil Aviation had invited applications for three director-level posts including that of Director (Operations).
At present, executive director-level officials are officiating these positions.
Till March, Captain Amitabh Singh was officiating as operations director.
In 2018, Captain A.K. Kathpalia was removed from this post, after his alcohol direction test results came positive after operating a flight.
As a result, his flying licence was suspended for three years.
The post in question is both coveted and controversial as the incumbent is always under scanner of all the employees, the second source added.