NEW DELHI: It is raining airlines now. After Tata Sons’ JVs with Singapore Airlines and AirAsia, smaller players are now aiming for the Indian sky too.
Alok Sharma, the face of Air Sahara till it was sold off to Jet Airways in 2007, has been given a no objection certificate (NOC) by the aviation ministry to start a regional airline. He plans to start a full service airline Air One in the first quarter of next year. Along with Air One, two other startups have been granted NOCs to start airlines.
“Our paid-up capital for the airline is well over Rs 100 crore. We are going to have a fleet of either Boeing 737 or Airbus A-320 aircraft. Due to obvious business reasons, it will not be possible for me to divulge all our plans. All I can say at this stage is that it will be a full service airline India will be proud of and that it should begin flying by next March,” Sharma, who left Sahara in 2010, told TOI. He claims the new airline has nothing to do with the group.
According to industry insiders, armed with this NOC, Sharma will now aim to get a foreign investor, most likely an airline, to begin operations under a joint branding. “It is always cheaper for a foreign airline to invest in a startup instead of buying stake in an existing airline. Many international airlines like Qatar have been very keen on IndiGo but the promoters have not responded to these overtures. The other option has been GoAir, which also has a reasonably clean balance sheet. Now foreign airlines can find people with NOCs, like Sharma’s Air One, a cheap option to enter the Indian aviation market,” said an insider. He added that Sharma starting an airline on his own is highly unlikely.
After leaving Sahara, Sharma started the Air One charter company that currently has a fleet of four aircraft and two choppers. Sahara chief Subrata Roy reportedly wanted to exit aviation completely after selling Air Sahara to Naresh Goyal, promoter of Jet Airways, something cemented by a no-compete clause in their agreement to sale.
Air One used to run charters between Mumbai and the Amby Valley project of Sahara Group. “When Sharma expressed his desire to start an airline, the Sahara Group told him that it could consider his venture for travel,” said a source.
Sharma vehemently denies that the Air One airline is Sahara’s re-entry into the airline business. “They have nothing to do with it. I left the group some years back,” he said. The current troubles of Sahara Group also indicate that Sharma will have to look for some other investor.
The CEO-turned entrepreneur says that he does not believe in the low-cost or budget model and that his proposed airline will be a full service one. Air Sahara was a full service carrier along with its bigger contemporaries – Indian Airlines and Jet. It used to fly to nearby international routes and this was the reason why Naresh Goyal bought it as he wanted Jet to be the only private Indian carrier to fly abroad. Ironically, after being bought by Jet, Air Sahara was converted into the low-cost JetLite (now JetKonnect).