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BW Businessworld

Jet Airways Should Be Airborne Soon: Murari Lal Jalan, Chairman of Agio Image Group

Jalan gives an insight into how Jet Airways will be airborne soon while sharing his vision and plans for the airline’s second innings.

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An extremely successful entrepreneur with diversified business interests across several countries, 56-yearold Murari Lal Jalan, Chairman of Agio Image Group, is leading the Jalan-Kalrock consortium, the winning bidder for Jet Airways, the full-service airline that had shut operations in April 2019. Jalan, who was on a short visit to the capital, took time out for a Q&A session with BW Businessworld’s Ashish Sinha. Jalan gives an insight into how Jet Airways will be airborne soon while sharing his vision and plans for the airline’s second innings. Excerpts: 

What is the on-ground situation at Jet Airways? What is the time frame for starting the operations?
I would say that the situation is very good. We are very happy with all the developments. As for a time frame, since the matter is before the judiciary, I cannot be sure about it. But after the regulatory go-ahead, it should take anywhere between four to six months to start the operations. We should be airborne in six months’ time, which is our hope. We will start with Delhi-Mumbai and other major towns and will also go to Tier-II and Tier-III towns. My ultimate aim is that whether it is people residing in Patna, Ranchi, Bhubaneswar or Guwahati, Jet Airways will be able to offer those passengers seamless connectivity with all the major cities in India and abroad. We want to start the operations as soon as possible, not just the domestic service, but the international operations as well. My team is on the job.

Will you start the operations first with cargo or passenger services or both will be started together?
There is a lot of flexibility and the entire team is working on every possible scenario. My preference will be to start the passenger operations first. But if there are some regulatory issues, we can start with cargo. Basically, there will be flexibility and we will be ready to start Jet Airways whatever may be the situation.

In the earlier avatar, the hub for Jet Airways was Mumbai. Where will you keep the base when it re-starts? What sort of aircraft do you plan to start the operations with?

The base will be in Delhi-NCR. We are looking to start operations with 25 new aircraft in the first phase. Some will be narrow-body and some will be wide-body aircraft. All the planes will be brand new when we restart. As for the fleet of existing aircraft, they have been grounded for two years. As soon as we take charge of the grounded fleet, a lot of work will go in to see their airworthiness and all related matters. Hence, we are very clear that we will start operations with new aircraft. As for shifting the base to Delhi-NCR, I feel it is a non-issue as in today’s day and age with super-fast connectivity via telephone and videoconferencing, it hardly matters where the base of operations is, operationally speaking. For us, being in the capital makes operational sense hence we have decided to keep the base here in the capital.

Take us back in time when you first thought of investing in Jet Airways. And why?
I am an entrepreneur and a businessman. I keep myself clued to the business opportunities arising across the landscape. And this is how entrepreneurs think, so it is not peculiar to me, it is true for all entrepreneurs. Like when Jet Airways was struggling two years ago, I was aware but not interested. It is true that my interest peaked a year ago and after the Covid-situation became a reality. I knew about Jet and its services, but as I meet more and more people, I have discovered how big the brand is with thousands of loyal customers. In the past few months, I have met several of them who keep asking me to start this wonderful airline at the earliest.

What is the message to those who were in the employment of Jet Airways, and are waiting for it to start operations? How do they fit into the scheme of things going forward?
First of all, let me say it upfront that I am extremely grateful and thankful to everyone who is associated with the company. They are our strength and an asset. And we would definitely engage with them. Of course, when we start, the first preference will go to all those employees who are available and keen. But there must be many who have moved on and taken employment elsewhere. But my team is working on it and we will connect with everyone who was part of this airline before. But do note that I cannot get into the specifics and in great detail as the matter is before NCLT. And I would like to thank all those employees who petitioned the National Company Law Tribunal to expedite this entire matter so that the airline can become operational at the earliest.

Can we call this revival a ‘brand new’ beginning and a new airline with Jet branding?

See, I am a man who strongly believes in classical thinking. I believe in continuing the legacy of a well-established, most-cherished Jet Airways with its own loyal and dedicated customers. So it will be the same airline, the same Jet Airways, the same full-service carrier with the premium class and premium service. Essentially, everything will be same as before. And that is what my team is endeavouring to achieve. As of now, there is no discussion on making any kind of changes. It will be the same Jet Airways as it was before.

Covid has changed a lot for the aviation sector. How do you see Jet Airways starting operations in a post-Covid world?
I am extremely positive, especially after the vaccination drive. The situation is improving every month. More than 10 million Indians have been vaccinated and the way it is going, by June 300 million Indians would be vaccinated. The central government is doing a splendid job with its vaccination drive which will also help the aviation sector and us by the time we take to the skies. Already, the passenger occupancy levels are touching 70-80 per cent. So, by the time we start operations, the situation would be nearing normalcy and that will immensely help us.

What has been the feedback in the market?

In the past few months, I have met and interacted with a number of people who said they are missing Jet Airways and that they were extremely satisfied and happy customers of the airline. I was more than pleasantly surprised even though I had done my homework. I did not realise how popular Jet Airways was with its loyal customers. I feel we will get the best advantage of this loyal customer base going forward and I have no doubt that it will be a great success.

Do you foresee any challenges in the availability of slots?

Not at all. Let me explain why. Covid, in a way, has helped this sector. With the Covid-19 pandemic shutting down air operations for a longer period of time provided the government opportunity to execute a lot of work in improving and expanding the civil aviation infrastructure and practices. We must appreciate and give the government the due credit. Especially, the work around the development of the airports, not just in the main towns but in the smaller towns as well. So going forward, the passenger traffic will only grow, not only in Delhi or Mumbai but across smaller towns. Hence, finding slots won’t be an issue.

Can you expand on the funding plans? What can you share with us?
I don’t think we should discuss a funding-related matter today. This is my first media interview representing Jet Airways so we will get other opportunities to talk about that. But the entire plan has been presented and approved by the bankers, the Committee of Creditors, and all the details are there and in place.

Tell us a bit more about your businesses? How do you see Uzbekistan, the UAE, and other countries when compared to the business scenario in India?
My family roots lie in the Shekhavati region of Rajasthan. We have lived in Ranchi. I am from Ranchi and after my education, I moved to Kolkata where I worked for several years before moving abroad in 1992. I have lived and run businesses in Russia and several other countries. I speak Russian. But essentially, I am a small town person who keeps looking out for business opportunities wherever they may exist. I spend my time between Dubai, where I have been residing since early 2000, and Tashkent, which is a fast-developing modern city offering a world of opportunity for development just like India. Here, our government is doing a wonderful job in infrastructure and overall development. All such efforts will help the aviation sector to scale new heights.

Share with us your hobbies and interests. Do you have any any tips to offer to budding entrepreneurs on how to become a successful business person?
Well, as shared, I love the old ways, the classical way of life. So all I can offer to anyone are four things. Take responsibility for your life, delegate your work, manage your time well, and must have a hunger for seeking opportunities. In terms of hobbies, I love watching movies — both Hollywood and Bollywood. It’s my best way to spend time with my family during leisure time. Watching movies also helps me to refresh my mind and focus better. I am also an avid cricket fan and