'We will be better than the average Joe airline out there': Akasa Air founder Vinay Dube

Interview/Vinay Dube, Akasa Air founder Vinay Dube


Q/ When will Akasa start operations?

A/ We are going through our certification process with the DGCA. The latest estimate is [it may take] a few weeks more. After that we file for our slot approvals. We are in conversation with 20-plus airports and after getting that we will open our schedule up for sales. That will happen maybe by early July and we plan to start operations by late July.

Q/ From the initial Ultra-Low-Cost-Carrier (ULCC) model, you have moved on to a Low-Cost-Carrier (LCC) model. How exactly are you envisioning the whole thing?

A/ There is no one silver bullet in aviation. We've got to do many things well. The first step to setting up an airline competitively would be to address the cost structure. But how our perspective differs is that we will be hyper-focused on [giving] the best customer experience. That’s the reason why [we did not go in for a] ULCC model, because that creates the stigma that [passengers] are not going to be treated well. There is absolutely no reason why flight attendants can’t be warm and kind and courteous, why our airport experiences can’t be efficient, why our queue times can’t be the lowest in the industry or why our digital experience can’t be the best in the world. All that encompasses the customer experience that we are going to spend a lot of time focusing on. These are things that are easy to say, but hard to deliver. But that is what we aspire to deliver.

The last two pieces for us, which we think will set us apart, are a focus on employees and sustainability. Once you have happy, satisfied employees, then you have employees who have the freedom, clarity and peace of mind to be able to do their jobs and serve the customer. Then there's our focus on sustainability. We want to be the most environmentally-progressive airline in the world. For starters, we have a brand-new fleet of eco-friendly aircraft (Boeing 737 MAX) with the most fuel efficient engines. Those are some of the things we are focused on. Some will be different, some will be better than the average Joe airline out there, all of which we have pledged to deliver.

Q/ The market leader IndiGo, the resurgent Air India under the Tatas, ATF prices shooting through the roof. It is a tough, challenging scenario.

A/ I have been in aviation for over 30 years, and at no point has it not been super challenging! I started my career in the US with airlines that went through bankruptcies, came out and restructured, and the same [happened] in Europe. You see the difficulties in the Far East, and you see the difficulties Indian carriers have had pre-Covid and then through Covid. Aviation is not for the faint-hearted, and this time it is no different.

But I will also say that the secret to any airline’s success is really to [believe] in itself. IndiGo, Tata and the other carriers can do what they are doing. But if we are able to deliver what I told you we are promising to deliver—a very affordable fare because of the cost structure we are creating—if we are able to deliver the warmth of customer service, the efficiency and reliability of operations, and all in a sustainable manner, and if we are able to do that with happy employees, then I just don’t think we have anything to worry about.

Q/ There is a lot of potential; Indian aviation sector is the fastest growing in the world.

A/ This is exactly why I don’t need to take share away from IndiGo or Air India or anybody else. Our market is so big and growing so rapidly. We just need to worry about satisfying customers, satisfying employees, and a competitive cost structure. Once we do that, because of the India story—not just the Indian aviation story but the ‘India Inc’ story—I think we will be just fine.

Q/ Once you become eligible to fly internationally (20 aircraft or five years in operation), is there any particular focus?

A/ Our focus is going to be in all directions. We are not gonna focus just on the Middle East, we are not gonna focus on South East Asia or just to Nepal or Sri Lanka or Bangladesh. We’ve got assets that are movable, we’ve got a very good range for the MAX and we will fly wherever we need to fly.

Q/ Everyone agrees on the immense scope for expansion. But what is your magic formula to deal with ATF prices, a variable that is really not in your hands?

A/ We have got the world’s most fuel-efficient aircraft. So we should be able to cope with [ATF price rise] better than most of our rivals. Second is that our aircraft are newer. Every year you fly, you get a slight fuel degradation (a 10-year-old aircraft will be less fuel efficient than a brand new one). Then it goes on to how you actually operate the aircraft. This is where the expertise of the management team comes in—where you pull your flaps out, whether it is single-engine on taxiways, what the weight of the aircraft is, what is your demand of fuel that you load in the aircraft, the routes you fly, the elevations you fly—there are many things that you do in the way you operate your aircraft that determine fuel burns well. We are not particularly worried about fuel, because we think we will have a very competitive cost structure because of these decisions we’ve taken.