EXCLUSIVE: At Akasa we are building a future-ready airline to serve our grandkids, says CCO Praveen Iyer

EXCLUSIVE: At Akasa we are building a future-ready airline to serve our grandkids, says CCO Praveen Iyer

As Akasa Air completes 60 days of operations on Friday, Business Today caught up with chief commercial officer, Praveen Iyer, to get a sense of the way forward for India’s newest airline.

Praveen Iyer, chief commercial officer, Akasa Air Praveen Iyer, chief commercial officer, Akasa Air

BT: You have reported a 52.9 per cent passenger load factor (PLF), carried around 2.4 lakh passengers and captured 0.2 per cent market share in the month of August. How do you rate your performance since launching operations?

PI: For a start-up airline, to have more than 50 per cent PLF is perhaps unparalleled. Therefore, we would give ourselves a very high-performance rating for the way we carried ourselves in the first month of operations. Overall, we are very happy with the way we have performed on the operational and commercial side in August, September and, so far, October.

BT: In a little over a month and a half of operations in one of the most cutthroat aviation markets globally, what do you see as your main differentiators?

PI: To begin with, it’s the newness of the product. India had not witnessed the launch of a major scheduled carrier in the last several years. Secondly, we are getting a lot of positive feedback about our inflight menu in terms of its quality and choice. Within a month of our launch, we offered a special festive menu that has received rave reviews. Thirdly, we are also getting a lot of positive feedback around the look and feel of the onboard product such as seats, the comfort, the brand-new look of the aircraft and, of course, our crew who are extremely service-oriented and friendly in consonance with our values. These differentiators will eventually make us stand out in the market.

BT: You are the second Indian carrier after Air India to offer pet-friendly flights. What made you announce the service within 60 days of launching operations?

PI: The entire management team of Akasa is pet lovers and pet owners. We realised from our personal experience that it is difficult to carry your pet on an airline since only a very few offer that facility in India. Therefore, right from the word go, we were looking at introducing it as part of our to-do list. Thus, you will find us to be people-friendly, pet-friendly and customer friendly.

BT: Before the launch, the airline’s co-founders had said that as part of its endeavour to democratise air travel, Akasa will be especially focusing on non-metro routes. Both the government and experts have said that Tier-2 and-3 will propel the next phase of growth in air traffic. Are you considering leasing small aircraft to service regional routes?

PI: At this point, no! It’s not in our plans. As things stand today, we have placed the order for 72 aircraft and are currently in the process of taking that order. We have 18 aircraft coming in by the end of March 2023, while the remaining will be delivered over the next four years beyond that. Our objective is to deploy those aircraft on domestic and, in the second half of 23, on international routes. On Tier II and III, we don’t have any plans for inducting smaller aircraft at this point. But then, you never say no to anything. And, if we have to and when we have to, we will review and take the right decision at the right time.

BT: How intrinsic is new and cutting-edge technology to Akasa Air’s day-to-day operations? Also, what are you doing to foster a culture of innovation within the airline like the US carrier jetBlue?

PI: If you wish to be relevant to the younger generation, you have to be tech-savvy. They understand the language of technology better than most of us. So, very few airlines have gone live on a full-fledged reservations system as we did with the best-in-the-industry, Navitaire. We also launched our cargo operations after signing a deal with SmartKargo on the systems side. From a tech-enablement standpoint, we are up there as a startup and we will make sure that we thoroughly embrace technology. We have to do that as we have been talking about creating and building an airline that can be used by our grandchildren. So, we are building Akasa keeping in mind the future. On the innovation side, the freshness and features that we offer are pretty unique to our airline and we will continue to find ways and means to please the customer as well as enhance their travel experience.

BT: What OPEC announcing production cuts on Wednesday, how well prepared are you to meet another steep escalation in ATF prices?

PI: We can only work towards focusing on costs that are within our span of control. Anything beyond our scope, there is no point in fretting over it since you don’t know how the situation might evolve.

BT: How has the demise of your key promoter Rakesh Jhunjhunwala impacted your growth plans?

PI: Mr. Jhunjhunwala’s demise is a loss for the entire country and not just Akasa. Owing to his belief in the India growth story, he will be sorely missed by a lot of people. And that’s a reality!