Captain GR Gopinath, the man who gave us Air Deccan, will return to the aviation business for a third time by launching a regional airline in Gujarat on Monday.
The airline, Deccan Shuttle, will start 12 flights a day between nine cities such as Ahmedabad, Surat, Jamnagar, Bhavnagar and Kandla with five 12-seater Grand Caravans. All these cities are connected to Mumbai by air, but have no services between them. Gopinath’s latest venture coincides with a series of launches of small and regional airlines in India. Air Mantra, a unit of financial services conglomerate Religare Group, started daily flights connecting Amritsar and Chandigarh in July. Air Pegasus, promoted by Shyson Thomas of Decor Aviation, an airport ground-handling agency, is looking to become south India’s first regional airline in October.
RAHI Aviation Inspired Realities (RAir), an offshoot of RAHI Aviation Holdings, a Bangalore-based aviation infrastructure and allied air services company, aims to begin services early next year.
Spirit Air, which provides service to Jamshedpur and Ranchi from Kolkata, plans to reach out to tourist destinations such as Gaya and Kushnagar later this year. Waiting in the wings are Karina Airlines, Volk Air, Air Freedom and Akashganga Airlines, among others. Non-resident Indians in the Gulf are about to resurrect plans to launch a carrier called Air Kerala that will connect the state to the Middle-East.
As anyone trying to fly between the smaller cities in India would say, it’s not easy to get from here to there and back. Even states such as Himachal Pradesh and Uttarakhand, which are key tourist destinations, have negligible air services to their many scenic and religious attractions, according to the Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, a leading consultancy. The launch of these airlines could answer the connectivity problems.
It also means that Indian aviation is again having a moment after about four years of skulking in the corners of a slowdown. Yet, the action comes at a time few were expected to touch the sector with a barge pole. India’s biggest airline by market share, Jet Airways, and low-fare rival SpiceJet posted profits in the June quarter, but these are still early days to suggest that aviation has emerged from the shadow of troubles sown by soaring fuel prices and a weakening rupee. Even for a sector that has always been inherently risky, the last two years have stood out as an absolute nightmare, with Indian carriers losing a combined $2 billion. Kingfisher Airlines, which once embodied aviation’s glitz and glamour, is gasping for breath and fighting for survival. Gopinath’s previous venture, a lowfare carrier called Air Deccan that offered Rs. 1 tickets, was sold to Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines while Deccan 360, an air cargo service, was a modest success. So it would seem an odd, even reckless, time to start an airline.
Harvansh P Chawla, chairman, Karina Airlines, said when he told friends about his venture, their reaction was: “Are you serious? You must be out of your mind.” Yet, executives of all the startup carriers are sanguine about their future. Their business strategy is built on the plank of connecting small towns with tourist hotspots or remote locations and dodge competition with bigger airlines.“I amlooking to create a new market,” said Gopinath.