Sunday, November 19, 2017

When under pressure, airline employees need to react with grace: Ajay Singh of SpiceJet

Ajay Singh, chairman and managing director of low-cost carrier SpiceJet, could not have dreamt of a more spectacular comeback — from the brink of closure in 2014. SpiceJetBSE -0.99 % recorded a 79% rise in net profit to Rs 105.28 crore during the July-September quarter over the same period a year ago, making it the eleventh consecutive profitable quarter for the airline. “Restoring credibility and trust among flyers did the trick,” says Singh, who bats for stringent punishment for unruly aviation employees along the lines of rules framed for flyers. Quality of manpower, he reckons, is at the heart of any operation. “SpiceJet never compromised on manpower training,” he says in an interview to Rajiv Singh. Excerpts:

From being on the verge of a shutdown in 2014 to posting 11 consecutive quarters of profits, including the latest, how has the journey been for SpiceJet?

It has been a good ride so far. I had no doubt whatsoever that SpiceJet could be brought back from the brink. It was critical for us to succeed, as another KingfisherBSE 3.03 % would have been disastrous for the industry as well as the country. The biggest compliment for us is winning back the trust and credibility of the consumers. The people who thought that they would never ever fly SpiceJet again after the episodes in 2014 (the cash-strapped airlines was on the verge of closure) are back. The fact that for 31 months in a row the load factor of Spice-Jet has been in excess of 90% speaks volumes about our remarkable comeback. Services have improved, on-time performance was the best in the country for two consecutive years starting 2015, and we still want to do much more and raise the benchmark.

How was the turnaround achieved?
Restoring the credibility of the airline was the biggest thing. From a position of losing trust — nobody trusted the brand, be it consumers, partners or employees — to winning hearts, it has not been easy to anchor the transformation. We focused on carrying out operations more efficiently, the financials of the company were looked into thoroughly, all leaks were plugged to ensure that revenues were optimised and costs were brought down. A fall in global crude prices also played a role. But one thing we never did, even during the period of cutting corners, was to scale down manpower training.

Has the focus on training held you in good stead, given that some airlines have been in the news for wrong reasons, especially for manhandling of flyers?
Quality of manpower is at the heart of any operation. SpiceJet never ever compromised on it, even during the dark days of 2014. Training is at the core of any brand. It’s one of the reasons that people came back to SpiceJet. Our employees behaved honourably and professionally.
19/11/17 Rajiv Singh/Economic Times