Tuesday, February 06, 2018

'We are happy to have built Kochi to this extent by opening up market'

The skies are now ruled by the budget airlines which took the aviation sector by storm, given the frequency of flights among the various destinations. From a mere five flights daily servicing the Kochi-Bengaluru sector a few years ago, today there are over 14 direct flights connecting the two cities. The increase in the flight capacity, including those for the Kochi-Bengaluru route, can be put down to the arrival of  low-cost carriers on the scene. At a time when budget carriers account for roughly half of air travel worldwide,  Amar Abrol, MD & CEO of AirAsia India, in an interview with The New Indian Express, shared his plans and ambitions for the no-frill carrier. The excerpts.

Your plans for the airline?

We are one of the players in the aviation sector who started a healthy competition among various budget airlines on various routes in terms of flight capacity and low fares. For instance, the increase in flight capacity on the Kochi-Bengaluru route can be traced to AirAsia India’s entry in to the market which saw the introduction of low-cost flights.  Now, we are pinning hopes on flying to the Asean(Association of Southeast Asian and South Asian nations) and  South Asian countries by 2019.

AirAsia as a group has great reputation and regard in the Asean countries, and we will look at venturing into some of these countries, some of which remain largely unexplored. We believe in cashing in on our expertise in the Asean region and continue AirAsia’s legacy of being one of the best low-cost carriers in the world. We’re a well-known brand globally and will extend our horizon into regions that have the right growth prospects.

Why are you more interested in Far East Asia rather than West Asia  when around 25-30 lakh Malayalis work in the various GCC member states?
We have a team which analyses every route before we commence operations on that sector for it to be beneficial to the consumer and also make business sense. Our affiliate carriers, AirAsia Berhad and Thai AirAsia, already have 18 weekly flights to Kuala Lumpur and seven weekly flights to Bangkok from Kochi which are doing very well. We were the first carrier to provide connectivity from Kochi to Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok; we have enabled many families to go on holidays. We are happy to have opened up tourist movements from and to Kochi.

Any plans to expand your fleet size before starting international operations? 
We have a current fleet size of 15 and we are positive about increasing our fleet size count to 20 by this year-end. We will be inducting another aircraft next month. Our financial numbers for the previous quarter are also indicative of the path to profitability; we’re adding capacity and losses are narrowing down.

Currently, the  busy Kochi-Bengaluru route is ruled by Indigo with over 51 per cent market share.  Do you have ambitious plans to become the leading player in this route by introducing more flights and increasing the departure frequencies ?
At present we operate 26 weekly flights connecting Bengaluru and Kochi. Before we started servicing the Kochi-Bengaluru route in July 2014, there were less than five daily flights operated by the other carriers. Not much capacity increase was observed from 2012 - 2014. In 2014, when we started flying to Kochi, other airlines quickly increased capacity in this segment. We are proud to have created a large demand for air travel in this leisure + corporate segment.
06/02/18 Dhinesh Kallungal/New Indian Express