Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Boy's Own

Indian entrepreneur Vijay Mallya has expanded his empire to include international air travel. The flamboyant soul, who is known as ‘India’s Richard Branson’, is the founder and chairman of the fast-growing domestic Kingfisher Airlines. Undaunted by the competition he has launched a service linking Bangalore, India’s IT hub, with Heathrow. He is confident that the Kingfisher product will compare favourably with the alternative from BA; “We offer an infinitely better service. We are the Harrods of the sky.” More specifically the flamboyant, jewelled and sunglassed Mr Mallya will personally select the stewardesses, and is confident that they will be “much prettier than BA’s.” His selection criteria include “…height, figure, command of English, manner and style of speaking.”

Not relying solely on the looks of cabin staff to attract business, the airline boasts other attractions. “My Kingfisher First cabin is a truly first-class product but it’s at BA’s business-class prices. We have 180degree flat beds, 350 hours of in-flight entertainment as well as live TV. We also have a stand-up bar and lounge.”

Undaunted by the reports of malaise affecting the global airline industry in the post-crunch era, Mr Mallya didn’t amass a vast fortune (he owns United Breweries, which produces such brands as Kingfisher and Whyte & Mackay) by taking silly chances. Commenting on the BA ‘s observation that airlines face “the worst trading environment ever” he said “Willie Walsh talked about trading conditions facing BA. We should not confuse these generalised comments with the Indian opportunity. International air traffic in and out of India is growing at between 16% and 20% per annum. Even now economic growth in India was 7.8% in the last quarter. We have a middle class of 300m people. Three years ago, there were 14,000 sterling millionaires. Now there are 200,000.” Despite this 70% of international air traffic in and out of India is controlled by foreign carriers.

Mr Mallya expects to lose £100m this year on the airline venture, but it would be unwise to dismiss him; the Kingfisher airline only started 3 years ago and already dominates the Indian market with its fleet of 91 aircraft serving 465 domestic routes. Further international development is in the pipeline, with service planned to San Francisco and Heathrow-Mumbai. Despite his brash exterior Mr. Mallya has a rare cautious side; while he is prepared to take on BA, Virgin and Air India, and owns the Indian formula-one team, he does not plan to buy an English football club. “I hang my hat on the Indian growth story which I understand perfectly well. I don’t want to come here and be stupid and try to take on the world because I know I’ll be the first one to come to grief. You cut your coat to suit your cloth.”. Watch this space….

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