"Connectivity" is the buzz word in Jeh Wadia's no-frills, low-cost airline
ON a hot, muggy afternoon, a large number of small children ran up and down the Santa Cruz airport's departure terminal, laughing and squealing. A chubby little boy, who couldn't have been more than four or five, chortled happily in his mother's arms. The children suffer from cancer, leukemia, cerebral palsy, thalassemia or Down's syndrome. The children and their parents, 116 in all, had converged at the airport for a joyride on board a spanking new plane, the first in a fleet of 36 to comprise the Wadia Group's newest endeavour - a low cost airline, aptly named GoAir by Celina, the Australian born wife of its Managing Director, Jehangir (Jeh) Wadia.
The airline is Jeh's brainchild; the joy ride on GoAir's inaugural flight was his mother, Maureen's idea. Jeh is the quiet, unassuming one, maintaining a low profile, averse to giving interviews. Jeh, as he prefers to be addressed, initially went through training in The Bombay Dyeing & Mfg Co Ltd, Mumbai, then rotated various positions till last October when he became the Deputy Managing Director of The Bombay Burmah Trading Corporation which maintains four tea and coffee plantations in Tamil Nadu. In this time he began to look at new strategic investments for the company. One such financial investment was a joint venture with The Port Singapore Authority (PSA), another example is GoAir, the no-frills airline. "Connectivity", "commoditise" and "grow" are the Wadia scion's favourite words, as he talks about "the People's Airline". Connectivity is the reason why he launched GoAir. Does he think GoAir can successfully negotiate its place in India's crowded skies? India, he says, reeling off a succession of statistics, has a huge advantage over, say, China. "If you really study the market, you'll find there is no such thing as `crowded'. Only a huge opportunity waiting to be explored; a huge demand waiting to be tapped. "Bombay Dyeing has paid dividends for the past 126 years; the Burmah Trading Corp is the second listed company on the Stock Exchange. The values and principles that have been incorporated for years in the Wadia Group - of trust and integrity - will also be inculcated into the airline business. I'm confident of GoAir's success. I believe there's room for all of us. We have functional airports in an industry whose growth rate is about four per cent. There's room for growth and expansion here as well." GoaAir's fares are 40 per cent lower than that of traditional airlines and on an average 10 per cent higher than air-conditioned first and second-class railway fares. Bookings can be made six months in advance. The fares will rise closer to the departure date. Elaborating on GoAir's pricing and sales strategy and its avowed goal of retaining its low-cost appeal, he said, "We continually emphasise the Book Early Mantra to obtain cheaper fares," says Jeh. "I am thinking of people in the metros who would like to visit their aged parents and relatives; people who may want to visit their hometowns more often. One differential factor is the distribution mode. Our distribution network has been carefully researched, keeping in mind that our passengers should not have to travel a very long distance to purchase a GoAir ticket. We have also catered for people who are not computer-savvy and do not possess credit cards. These passengers will be able to purchase tickets in cash directly from GO-branded PCOs, travel agents, gas stations, post offices and cell-phone outlets. Others can dial our Customer Care Centre's toll number or book online at www.GoAir.in We also have cybercafes and have tied up with Tata Indicom and InLott in this regard. With an aggressive growth plan under way, we are in talks with various distribution outlets to further enhance our network."
Plans for future
Outlining plans for fleet and route expansion, Jeh said, "Our main objective is to focus on delivering a quality - consistent quality - assured and time-efficient product and service at affordable fares. We want to commoditise air travel in India by delivering low-cost fares with quality in price, efficiency and service. We want to give our customers the best value for money and make air travel affordable by all. It is our dream to increase air connectivity in India, and this is the first step in this direction. Our theme is Experience The Difference."
Not many know that his leisure hours are occupied volunteering at the Deendayal Research Institute (DRI) in Chitrakoot where, under the leadership of his father Nusli's friend, Nanaji Deshmukh, Jeh has adopted 2000 villages to make them totally self-reliant. Hygiene, education, entrepreneur training, and agricultural development are just a few of the areas looked at by DRI. "Nanaji envisions self reliance for 600,000 villages in his life time. It is my dream to translate Nanaji's vision of ameliorating the lives of this rural population." Dream. That's another of Jeh Wadia's favourite words. Does Jeh Wadia believe in fate or destiny? "I believe in miracles. This joyride will not be a stand-alone item. There will be more treats in store for the sick and needy. This joyride will not be the last."