Akasa aims to fly to Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam in 2-3 years: CEO


New Delhi: As India’s youngest airline Akasa Air prepares to launch international flights next week, the low-cost carrier has plans to register record expansion in international segment and expects to connect cities across Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia in the next 2-3 years, a top company executive said.

“We are interested in Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia. A couple of years from now, it is more than likely that we will be flying to these destinations. For now, we certainly hope to operate to multiple international destinations by the end of this summer season,” founder and chief executive officer Vinay Dube said at a roundtable discussion.

Akasa Air, which commenced flight operations in India in August 2022, is slated to operate its maiden international flight on 28 March from Mumbai to Doha. The airline had operated its first domestic flight from Mumbai to Ahmedabad.

While there are challenges in availability of flying rights for cities such as Dubai and Sharjah, there is also a big pool of options for the airline such as Abu Dhabi, Jeddah, Riyadh, Dammam, and Bahrain to add international destinations going forward, Dube said.

“It is just the beginning. Our planes have the capability to fly non-stop to east coast of Africa from the North, to Hong Kong from Bengaluru, Kolkata etc. Based on the international demand that we foresee coming out of India, we will be able to get to those levels in 2-3 years in international segment, which (other) airlines took over 15 years to get in India,” Dube added.

The airline, which has a 4.5% market share in domestic segment, is also bullish on the growth story of the Indian air travel market in both domestic and international segments.

“March used to be a seasonally-weak quarter, but the kind of demand we are seeing play out in India and for markets to and from India is fantastic. We are going to see this amazing demand for the next 10 years. I see demand outpacing capacity for the next 10 years,” Dube said.

The airline operates a fleet of 24 Boeing B737 MAX aircraft in India. In January, Akasa had placed a $20-billion order for an additional 150 narrow-body Boeing 737 MAX aircraft. The latest order takes the airline’s cumulative order book to 226 planes with the anticipated delivery of the rest of the order over the next eight years through 2032.

In January, the airline, along with Air India Express and SpiceJet, was asked by civil aviation regulator Directorate General of Civil Aviation to carry out a one-time inspection of the emergency exits on all Boeing 737-8 MAX aircraft after an incident with US carrier Alaska airlines on a Boeing 737-9 MAX aircraft in which a door plug or a structure installed to replace an optional emergency exit door blew out. The DGCA had then informed that the checks were “satisfactorily performed.”

“Nobody in aviation can put too much of an effort on safety. We are happy with increased and renewed focus of Boeing, Federal Aviation Administration, our regulator (DGCA), and we think this is a good thing. What we are flying today is safe. The issues are not just with another variant, it is with a modification of another variant. We are flying a standard aircraft,” Dube said.

The airline is also confident of smooth implementation of new flight duty time limitations norms which increase weekly rest periods for flight crew or pilots to 48 hours per week from the previous 36 hours. Airlines such as Air India and IndiGo had written to DGCA for a one-year postponement of the June deadline citing that these norms could result in shortage of pilots.

“At Akasa, we plan for the future. We have 700 pilots and a fleet of 24 aircraft. When the switchover happens, you are not going to see any change in reliability from Akasa,” he said. He added that the airline has plans to launch a cadet programme for pilots in the near future.

“India continues to have a massive pipeline of unemployed commercial pilot licence holders, my message to them is with increased demand and planes coming, there is a spot for you. But, there will be a need (of cadet programme) in the coming months,” he added.

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Published: 21 Mar 2024, 08:06 PM IST


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