Air Deccan, India’s first domestic low cost airline, is set to relaunch operations this month with what it is remembered for the most — Rs 1 airfares.
Air Deccan, founded by GR Gopinath in 2003, merged with Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines in 2008 but was grounded in 2012 under financial duress.
In its second innings, the airline will begin with four bases at Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Shillong, connecting them with smaller cities around them. It is rare for airlines, that often go belly up in a cost-heavy industry, to revive.
The first Air Deccan flight will take-off on December 22 and fly to Mumbai from Nashik, Gopinath told Mint, speaking from his home in Bangalore.
“This will be my last Udan and then I will hang up my boots,” said Gopinath, who has been waiting for a re-entry for few years now.
The government’s Udan scheme (Ude Desh Ka Aam Nagrik), which loosely translates as “let the common man fly” and proposes to connect small towns on fares of about Rs2,500 for a one-hour flight, has provided that entry for the entrepreneur.
Air Deccan, which has the tagline “Simplifly”, will brand its entry with a “the common man takes to the skies” logo designed by cartoonist the late R.K. Laxman.
“Some of the initial lucky people will be able to get Rs 1 fares also,” Gopinath said, even though most tickets will start at about Rs 1,400 for a 40-minute Nashik-Mumbai flight, a distance that would take four hours to cover by road.
Air Deccan will also operate daily return flights between Nashik and Pune and Mumbai and Jalgaon.
Air Deccan will also station two planes in Kolkata, flying them to Jamshedpur, Rourkela, Durgapur, Bagdogra, Burnpur, Cooch Behar, Agartala, and from Shillong to Imphal, Dimapur, Aizawl and Agartala. The airline Deccan will use 19-seater Beech 1900 D planes that are used worldwide. Three of these planes have already joined its fleet and two more will be added over the next few weeks, according to Gopinath.
By January, four planes will be used for services and one will be kept on standby.
Gopinath said he would like to expand faster but is not getting slots and parking at the congested Mumbai and Delhi airports and flying to airports on the outskirts would ruin the small airline before it has taken its first baby steps.
Initially the airline was not granted even one slot at these airports and it took several requests made to the aviation ministry before a few slots were given, said Gopinath.
Smaller planes are exempt from paying any fee and therefore don’t bring revenue to the airport.
“The private sector airport monopolies are not aligned to the vision of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the steps being taken by aviation ministry in making Udan a success,” Gopinath said, adding, “They say we can give three slots per week for Kolhapur-Bombay. Do you think someone who goes by plane will like to come by train the next day?”
An email seeking comment from Mumbai airport remained unanswered till the time of going to press. A Delhi airport spokesman said to support Udan the airport has offered 26 flights slots to four airlines. Air Deccan had requested for a total of 10 slots, out of which six slots have already been offered to the airline. “In addition, four post-midnight slots have also been offered. However, Air Deccan is yet to finalise their schedule,” it added.
“India presents such a big market with so many different levels of airports that you need a turboprop to address a good part of the regional market,” former Jet Airways chief executive Steve Forte said, adding, “The government should have some guidelines for airports to provide for regional connectivity.”
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