To beef up its operations, cash-strapped Air India has launched a massive drive to recruit chief operating officers for itself and Air India Express, along with commanders, co-pilots and cabin crew for almost all types of aircraft in its fleet.

Experienced and inexperienced cabin crew are also being recruited for its Boeing 787 Dreamliners, which are yet to be inducted in its fleet, and the latest Boeing 777s meant for international operations, airline sources said.

This major recruitment drive comes ahead of a meeting of a Group of Ministers, led by Finance Minister Pranab Mukherjee next week, that would review Air India’s financial restructuring and turnaround plans.

The post of Air India’s COO fell vacant after Gustav Baldauf quit the post in February after alleging “political interference” in the functioning of the ailing national carrier. The highly-experienced Austrian pilot was appointed the first COO of Air India in April 2010.

However, the new Air India COO would not be as highly paid as Baldauf who used to get around three crore rupees as his annual package. The new COO’s compensation package would have a fixed component of between Rs. 40-60 lakh or 60 per cent of the package. The remaining part would be performance-linked.

While the Air India COO would be based in Mumbai, the one for AI Charters Limited, which operates low-cost Air India Express to Gulf and Southeast Asia, would be based in Kochi.

The COO of AI Express would get a fixed package of Rs. 25-30 lakh, comprising 60 per cent of the entire emoluments, while the remaining would be performance-linked.

Both COOs would be on a three-year contract which would be extendable by two years on the basis of their performance, the sources said.

The national carrier has also launched a drive for large-scale recruitment of pilots, flight attendants and other staff like ramp agents and customer service personnel.

The pilots and cabin crew are being employed to operate all aircraft-types in its fleet, as also those to be inducted.

The planes for which this recruitment exercise is being carried out are Airbus A-320s, A-330s, Boeing B-777s, B-787 Dreamliners, B-737-800 Next Generation, turboprop ATRs and regional jet CRJ-700s.

Both commanders and co-pilots are required to fly these aircraft while the cabin crew could be fresh as well as those experienced.

The Air India Board, which met in August, has decided to go ahead with the acquisition of B-787 Dreamliners, 27 of which have been ordered, and would be seeking government nod for it, the sources said.

A proposal for equity infusion of Rs. 6,600 crore for the ailing carrier has already been mooted by the Civil Aviation Ministry to enable the airline clear its massive dues. The government has already infused equity worth Rs. 2,000 crore in the last two financial years.

The debt-ridden carrier is riddled with outstanding loans and dues of Rs. 67,520 crore. Of this, Rs. 21,200 is working capital loan, Rs. 22,000 crore is long-term loan on fleet acquisition, Rs. 4,600 is vendor dues. It has an accumulated loss of Rs. 20,320 crore, latest official figures show.