Wednesday, November 25, 2020

“We’ve been surprised by the demand from passengers”: Willy Boulter, IndiGo



In his career of close to four decades in the aviation industry, William “Willy” Boulter, chief commercial officer of IndiGo, hasn’t seen a crisis like COVID-19.

During his stints at many top global airlines companies in the past, Boulter has witnessed several major crises. These include the 9/11 terrorist attacks in the US, the Gulf War (1990), the invasion of Iraq (2003), the SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak (2002), MERS (Middle East Respiratory Syndrome) outbreak (2012), and the Zika outbreak in Brazil (2015).

Boulter joined IndiGo in 2018 and has had stints at airlines companies like Etihad Airlines, Gulf Air, Virgin Atlantic and Cathay Pacific in the past.

He tells afaqs! that unlike Coronavirus, all of these were localised in nature and had a short-term impact.

The aviation industry has been amongst the worst affected. The (Coronavirus) pandemic put a two-month-long pause on passenger travel, plugged international flights and had a negative travel sentiment among consumers. The ripples also rocked several other businesses associated with travel. “We’ve never seen something of this scale,” he says.

The Indian government allowed airline companies to resume domestic flights in a phased manner from May 25. The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) reported that 52.71 lakh passengers travelled within the country in October.

While the growth is significant, from the 39.43 lakh flights in September, it was 57.2 per cent lower than October 2019. IndiGo accounted for the largest share (55.5 per cent) of the domestic traffic. The growth was driven by factors like the festive season.

Post the initial suspension of international passenger flights (March 23), the DGCA extended it till November 30. Apart from the government’s rescue program Vande Bharat Mission, only special flights to countries with 'air bubble' arrangements were permitted. India has air bubble pacts with countries like the US, the UK, France, etc., which make way for special flights to these countries.

“We had this couple of months where we did not have any substantial passenger operations. We did flights for the government and got into cargo flights during that period. We were flying medical supplies, PPE kits, pharmaceuticals, etc., across the country. We moved quite a bit of cargo, both internationally and within the country,” Boulter says.

With a dip in passenger revenue, attempts were made to reduce fixed costs. The company also had to reduce some of its workforce. IndiGo has currently resumed around 70 per cent of its domestic operations and is looking at an upward path. It recently crossed the 1,000 daily flights a day mark (from the pre-COVID frequency of 1,500).

"In terms of passengers, we’ve been surprised by the demand."

While business-oriented travel is yet to recover, Boulter mentions that there is a healthy demand for leisure travel. “In terms of passengers, we’ve been surprised by the demand. Flights to Maldives from Mumbai are doing really well. There are other such examples of normal demand returning. The SME sector is also recovering gradually and we are seeing people doing business across India again.”

He, however, mentions that in comparison to other global markets, the aviation industry in India is recovering faster due to its large domestic travel base. “India is relatively buoyant because of the large domestic market. It was in a good position and was growing fast pre-COVID.”

25/11/20 Abid Hussain Barlaskar/afaqs!

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