The irony is that capitalist analysts’ and economists’ predictions rely so much on government policy rather than the market forces and not just in China
Air Kerala, a state government promoted venture, is set to become a reality in April next year. It remains to be seen how the Directorate General of Civil Aviation reacts to offer Air Kerala a license to fly first, after which the five-year mandatory rule will have to be overcome to enable it to fly overseas
Conceived in 2004 by Oommen Chandy, salted away in 2006, Air Kerala has now been revived after he became chief minister, and is set to fly on 14 April 2013. It is a not wishful thinking of a Keralite but a Vishu undertaking, determined to settle scores with Air India which has been charging high rates on the Gulf sector, affecting the large population of Keralites working in the Middle East.
The Air India drama last week, has now precipitated the resolve and is certain that expeditious moves are afoot to ensure that Air Kerala is a reality that will takes its wings on Vishu day.
The unfortunate incident, if the media reports are to be believed, has been blown out of proportion due to inept handling of the irate passengers, who apparently had poor customer service from the very outset. The flight itself was inordinately delayed before it took off from Abu Dhabi. The upset passengers may have had arguments with the cabin crew, who were also subject to insults for no fault of theirs, and, when the commander of the aircraft had sufficient safety concerns to divert the plane, announcements may have been made only just prior to touching down at Thiruvananthapuram. The full story will become known once an internal investigation is carried out and the report is made public.
Expressing the right of the state government to establish an airline with 26% holding, with the balance equity being made easily available (or secured) from NRIs working in the Middle East, it will be a cake-walk for Air Kerala to become operative. There are an estimated three million Keralites working in Gulf countries, a large number of them living in this area fore decades now. Almost every single family has at least one or more of the family working in the Middle East.
Although there is a general mandatory requirement of five years of successful domestic service before an airline is allowed to “go overseas”, there has been exception to the rules in the case of Air India Express, where this was waived on the pretext of it being a subsidiary of the national carrier—Air India.
It remains to be seen how the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) reacts to offer Air Kerala’s license to fly first, after which only the five-year mandatory rule will have to be overcome. Any leniency by DGCA will set a precedent with applications coming in for Dravida Vimanam, Air Deccan or Vayu Karanataka, Andhra Air, Punjab Express, Maratha Speedways and Gujarat Airways. And, Air India will disintegrate or find itself as a minor working partner with some of these airlines. Consolidation and regrouping of airlines, mergers and acquisitions can be expected in the next 12-18 months at best.
There is no doubt that Air India has a strong technical and commercial base. Why is the government not thinking in terms of selling out the national airline or allow it to branch out, in a manner of spin off, into regional airlines and letting the survival of the fittest?
And how will Air Kerala operate? Successfully and profitably because of full occupancy in all flights. The bulk of Air India’s passengers have been Keralites from the Gulf and they will now fly directly from their Middle Eastern locations to main airports in Kerala without having to stop over at Mumbai, Chennai or Bangalore or even Mangalore.
This airline will have all economy seats and the cabin crew will speak Malayalam also; during the holy month of pilgrimage to Sabari Malai, special food will be offered and several flights a day will take care of the rush. Similarly, their Haj flights will strictly adhere to Islamic requirements for making the holy trip a joyful experience.
In all cases, food packets will be pre-sold and collected against coupons as you enter the aircraft and drinks will be served once airborne. During the pilgrimage seasons, only soft drinks will be served apart from food requirements.
Finally, if the DGCA puts any sort of stumbling blocks due to political pressures, chances are that Air Kerala and other prospective regional airlines will come in via foreign collaborators such as Emirates, Gulf and other airlines operating from the Gulf who have been awaiting such an opportunity to enter the Indian aviation market for a long time.
(AK Ramdas has worked with the Engineering Export Promotion Council of the ministry of commerce and was associated with various committees of the Council. His international career took him to places like Beirut, Kuwait and Dubai at a time when these were small trading outposts; and later to the US. He can be contacted at [email protected].)
Business houses and politicians have always been bed fellows. They are two sides of corruption at the highest levels as all scams have proved