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Gateway to the south

Kingfisher Airlines wants to make Bangalore its hub.

Print Edition: February 10, 2008

UBís Nedungadi: Go for native flights
Ravi Nedungadi
This year’s independence day may mean something special to south Indians. Vijay Mallya’s Kingfisher Airlines has decided to launch its daily non-stop flights from Bangalore to San Francisco and from Bangalore to New York on August 15. The company, which recently acquired low-cost carrier (LCC) Deccan Aviation, plans to profit from the vacuum in direct flight services from south India to the US. “India and the US are natural partners. But south India has no connectivity, at all, to the US,” notes Ravi Nedungadi, President & Chief Financial Officer (CFO), UB Group (of which Kingfisher Airlines is a part).

Kingfisher’s strategy is to make Bangalore its hub and provide connectivity from here to other south Indian towns and cities that the Kingfisher-Deccan combine covers. “We don’t have head-on competition with anyone in south India.

We are on a unique mission. We will connect Silicon Valley to Silicon Plateau (Bangalore),” says Nedungadi. The company will deploy Airbus A340-500s, which are expected to cover Bangalore-San Francisco in 17 hours and Bangalore-New York in 14-odd hours, non-stop.

In every country, Nedungadi says, people like to opt for homegrown carriers for reasons of food, language and culture. But it is not quite so in India. Less than 30 per cent travel on Indian flights. “This is disproportionately small,” the UB CFO says and gives the examples of Singapore Airlines and Emirates, where more than half of the USbound passengers are of Indian origin. Kingfisher Airlines is confident that the Indian hospitality on board will attract travellers from other airlines.

As for fares, the US routes will not come “cheap”, but “guests will get excellent value for what they pay. We are not an LCC. Kingfisher, as a brand, is about luxury, about premium delivery,” says Nedungadi, and wonders how airlines can do business at cut-throat fares when hotels are charging room rents of Rs 20,000 a day.

But are there enough flyers to fill up the Kingfisher aircraft on the Bangalore-US route? Nedungadi isn’t losing sleep over that. “It (Bangalore) will be the gateway to all of south India. Between Deccan and Kingfisher, we have unparallel connectivity to all over the south. In one hop, we will bring you to your hometown.” The other cause for cheer within the UB Group is the stiff targets being set by the Ministry of Tourism. The Government of India wants to take the tourist arrivals from the present 4 million to 10 million by 2010.

The UB Group, it seems, has not laid out any specific plans for Deccan’s foreign operations as of now. The company, however, intends to deploy no-frills Deccan flights on the South-East, West Asia, Sri Lanka, and Nepal routes. At the same time, it is not ruling out the possibility of the flagship brand itself touching down on some of these destinations. “Singapore and Dubai can take full-service carriers too,” says Nedungadi. According to him, Deccan will retain its low-cost character, but will no longer offer tickets at fares “below operating costs.”

— K.R. Balasubramanyam

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