Dinesh A. Keskar, the face of Boeing to many people in India, can be seen smiling more often these days. One reason: He has just bagged a $4.4-billion deal from SpiceJet to deliver 42 aircraft, starting 2018. This senior vice-president sales (Asia Pacific & India) for Boeing, who has seen the market in India for the last 25 years, is also a regular at the India Aviation show held jointly by the Ministry of Civil Aviation and the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (FICCI) in Hyderabad. At the fourth such event, currently under way in Hyderabad, he spoke to Business Today.
While clearly happy with SpiceJet's deal for the 189-seater airplanes, he dismisses as false any view that Boeing is facing increasing competition from its rival Airbus in India. He does not think Boeing is losing out to Airbus at all despite reports that airlines such as Air Asia and Tata-SIA (Singapore Airlines) have opted for Airbus. He says Boeing is the dominant player in the wide-body aircraft segment in India, and the narrow-body market is split equally between Boeing and Airbus. He also does not see any safety issue or challenges in the product, and says many reports on these are based on misconceptions. One challenge that he does talk about is his company's backlog. "We cannot sell to everybody," he says. "If you are willing to wait, sometimes five years, we will sell to you, but you are not willing to wait five years always." He explains this that his company has sold 5,000 aircraft globally which it has not yet billed. He adds: "It is difficult when you say I want an aircraft next year - we just don't have it. So, we work with a combination of leasing company and our own, but it doesn't always work out."
Asked why Jet Airways has not yet placed orders or confirmed to buy more Boeing aircraft despite reports of talks between the two companies, he says: "Only Jet can answer that. We have been talking to them and at the right time they will talk... We feel reasonably comfortable that Jet Airways will acquire 737 Max."
He adds that Air India and Jet Airways will also look at the wide-bodied 777X (Boeing's new long range jetliner) in the future. He says: "Air India right now has to stabilise their operations and financial profitability... In fact, all airlines in India are going through a difficult time, but at the same time, airlines including SpiceJet have the dilemma that if I wait too long, there won't be any airplane to buy, because they will be all sold."
As for Tata-SIA, he says, it wanted the planes quickly and has taken them on lease. As for Air Asia, he does not consider its order a new one - he says he sees it as a case where Air Asia had placed an order for 300 planes a while ago, and was only taking some planes and putting them in operation in India.
What does he think about the trend and policy thrust by the government to encourage regional flights and connectivity to Tier-II and -III towns, where smaller aircraft operate? "We don't have airplanes in that category - that's not our business," he says. However, he adds: "We welcome that, because when you get a 50- or 70-seater and you fly on those routes, you will eventually make the market big enough that you need a Boeing 737 some day. That's how it works... you grow the market and grow the route."