A decade after he exited the commercial aviation industry, Captain GR Gopinath is making a comeback by re-launching Air Deccan. The airline received its licence under the government’s regional connectivity scheme, Ude Desh Ka Aam Naagrik (UDAN). Along with its strategic partner, Air Odisha, both airlines will fly 84 routes across the country. Gopinath, who made air travel affordable for millions of Indians when he launched Air Deccan in 2003, talks about his learning from his previous experience and plans to connect all of India through his newly launched airline.
What was the trigger for re-entering the aviation industry after selling out in 2007?
When we launched Air Deccan in 2003, around 13 million tickets were sold in the country, and by the time Air Deccan exited in 2007, 60-65 million tickets were being sold. Currently, 110 million tickets are being sold with flights to six major metros, Mumbai, New Delhi, Chennai, Bengaluru and Kolkata, accounting for 75%. The headroom for growth is still huge in India. For example, Malaysia, which has a population of 30 million, sees 20 million air tickets being sold. In India, the sector has not grown to its full potential because of challenges on the regulations front and monopoly of airports. Today, less than 3% of India’s population or about 30 million people have sat on an airplane. Though there are 110 million tickets sold, many of them are repeat customers. So, if you can get the country’s middle class population of 300 million to take even one flight a year for a vacation or a visit to their relatives, the growth potential is huge. Today, business is where the bulk of the travel is happening. Ryanair, which flies more passengers than all the airlines put together, gets its traffic from people largely visiting friends and relatives. There was an unfulfilled dream to see Air Deccan fly high again — thanks to a set of fortuitous circumstances, the opportunity landed on my lap with the regional connectivity scheme being implemented.
What’s changed now that makes you more confident?
Between 2003 and 2007, almost all the routes that have now come under UDAN were connected by Air Deccan. For ex