June 12, 2007

'India's Branson' has a lofty vision

Founder sees Jet Air among top five carriers in wake of western push

Naresh Goyal is a man with a lofty vision: to make his Jet Airways Ltd. among the world's top five airlines in five years. That's within the realm of possibility for Goyal, 57, a.k.a. the Richard Branson of India, the genial founder and chair of India's largest private airline.

The former baggage handler and travel agent started Jet in Mumbai in 1993 with two airplanes. Today, the company operates 62 aircraft, with 20 more on order, and carried 12 million passengers on international and domestic routes last year.

The airline has about a 30 per cent share of the domestic Indian market.

Canada is a key part of his strategy, Goyal told a business crowd at a private luncheon hosted by the Indo-Canada Chamber of Commerce and RBC in Toronto last week.

"Canada was on our radar the minute we were allowed to fly internationally in January 2005. Canada-India trade is growing everyday, and so is travel between our two countries.

There are also about 800,000 Indians here. Many of them fly back home regularly."

Air Canada — which has 333 aircraft, serves more than 32 million passengers each year and is the world's 13th biggest airline – used to fly daily to New Delhi but stopped the service last month. A spokesperson at the time said the route "didn't meet our financial performance objectives." Demand was high in winter but fell significantly in summer.

Despite Air Canada's pullout, Goyal believes he can make it work.

Jet said in April that it would fly five times a week from Toronto to New Delhi via Brussels starting Sept. 5, with frequency increasing to daily by the end of the year. It's part of the airline's big push into North America, which also includes daily flights from Newark, N.J., to Mumbai starting Aug. 5.

But Goyal faces significant challenges, including a severe shortage of pilots in India and the country's inadequate airport infrastructure. On the other hand, there are advantages to an Indian base, he insists.

Read more from the source: www.thestar.com

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