Monday, November 30, 2020

Can this British entrepreneur of Indian origin make a business out of an idea that Ryanair debunked?

Navdip Singh Judge wants to pull off something that Michael O'Leary, founder of Ryanair, the largest European budget airline, has never done. It is something that America's Southwest Airlines, the world's largest low-cost carrier, hasn't done either.

Judge, or Nino as he is commonly known, wants to start a low-cost airline that will fly to long haul destinations. To be precise, Flypop will connect the Indian diaspora in the UK to their hometowns in India, starting with flights from Stansted airport in London, to Amritsar and Ahmedabad.

In November, in an interview with World Travel Market, O'Leary as much as debunked the whole idea. He remarked: "I don't think long-haul, low-cost works."

Consider this. Ryanair's longest flight is the five-and-a-half flight from Warsaw in Poland, to Tenerife in Spain. Southwest's is about 15 minutes longer, from Sacramento to Honolulu. On the other hand, Flypop's flying time to Amritsar will be over seven hours, and an hour longer to reach Ahmedabad.

It's not that others haven't tried it yet. Remember WOW Airlines, the ultra-low cost airline from Iceland that even started operations to India? It folded up in 2019. And so did Danish airline Primera Air, which industry observers say, closed operations after starting long haul operations.

But Judge is unperturbed.

"We will be ready by Baisakhi, next year," Judge told Moneycontrol on a recent Zoom call from London. While the popular Sikh festival will be celebrated on April 14, Flypop may finally take to the air when markets are more ready, points out the entrepreneur. In other words, when there are enough vaccines available and travel is deemed safe enough for large numbers of fliers to take to the skies again. After all, Flypop will need to fill wide body aircraft that can fly up to 400 passengers.

What's the secret sauce in Judge's plan that gives him confidence? Not just that. The British entrepreneur of Indian origin even convinced the UK government to lend him Pounds 5 million, from its Future Fund, which helps companies, especially start-ups, that have been hit by the pandemic. Companies have to match the government's aid with an equivalent investment from private investors.

Pounds five million is the maximum that the Fund lends to a company.

"Just one percent of the companies who apply for the aid, manage to get the maximum amount," Judge said.

30/11/20 Prince Mathews Thomas/

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