Kingfisher started in India with a huge attraction among the Indian flyers. In the age of Air Deccan where air travel looked to be losing its status symbol gradually and Jet Airways was fighting out to justify its brand positioning, Kingfisher captured the fancy of rich and mighty in the society. It created a distinction so obvious that booking a kingfisher airlines' ticket seemed no lesser than getting a front row invitation in a J J Valya fashion show.
Indigo Airlines on the other hand, always maintained a very low profile. Very few of the common would even know the names of the promoter. Promoting the brand name came only after ensuring a strong industry presence. It never created the awe factor among the travellers (and probably never intended to) but then it never disappointed too. They strictly followed a single class, low cost airlines tag and concentrated on getting the business strategies right. While Kingfisher was run by Vijay Mallya himself most of the times and they only had two CEOs in the last few years, Indigo had their CEO in place 18 months before the launch of the airline.
In an overtly competitive market it is only fair for Mr. Bhatia to feel hurt if his competitor seemingly gets an undue support from the government. Seven years down the line working in the same industry environment while Indigo has added numbers to their balance sheet, Kingfisher has grounded most of their flights and is looking at government help to bail them out. The big question remains what should government do?
As of now, the government is doing nothing. The news about Kingfisher has been put on the inside pages by most newspapers. Kingfisher had earlier, on reply to show-cause promised the Govt. to get solved its various issues by an agreed upon scheduled timelines but the recent stir showcases that all is not well within the company. An airline that cannot pay its employees for months only highlights that there is a huge cash crunch within the company.
Airlines work on high safety measures and cash strapped company will obviously not be able to stick to the stringent safety measures. It will not be an exaggeration to assume that cost cutting will happen on safety issues also. This brings human life into jeopardy and should be a matter of government concern. But then do we have a strong government and corruption free administration in place to do an independent check on the safety process of Kingfisher Airlines and give an honest report?
As per E K Bharat Bhushan, the ex Director General of Civil Aviation, he had prepared note to suggest the cancellation of license for Kingfisher Airlines. Bhushan was soon removed from his position and like many other government documents the file became ‘non-existent’ and common man keeps wondering about the value of their life on Indian skies. And for the fact that most of the pilots and air hostesses are groomed to behave; we haven’t witnessed Maruti Suzuki like environment where the workforce erupts out into violent protests against the management oppression.
In a similar state of affairs Air India seems to be in the same misery. In the entire process of renaming Indian Airlines as Indian and then merging it with Air India and in the process spending crores of common man’s tax in mismanaging a sick PSU, Indian government has proved that in a competitive market scenario, marred with political indecisions and red tape culture it is thoroughly incompetent of managing business, especially in the airline segment. While Kingfisher was a resultant of financial mismanagement, Air India was more hit by a negative brand image built by their lack of advertising skills and poor services. Both the airlines failed to maintain a focus on their business strategy, kept on competing with each other and spiraled towards their downfall. While Air India kept serving the personal interest of the ‘babus’, Kingfisher Airlines was more of an ego trip for Mallayas.
It would be healthy for the economy and business environment if the government now merges the Air India and Kingfisher, works out a partnership agreement and works as a unified brand. The process obviously is not as easy as suggested – it cannot happen without Air India becoming a private company. Privatizing the national carrier had been a debate running for years now without any result and Kingfisher Airlines being a private player will take their own decisions. Hence this obviously is a wishful thinking of this citizen journalist .
At this stage it seems very unlikely that both Air India and Kingfisher Airlines will turn around together to become profitable ventures within a short span of time. But it will be pity to see either the colorful bird or the maharaja die down – both companies have revolutionized the Indian skies in their own way. In case some aviation experts manage to figure out a way to turn around both the companies by merging the strength of resources, fleet and finances of both the companies -India may end up having a more colorful and vibrant sky above. Else, despite Mr. Bhatia’s allegation of favoritism, Indigo will continue to lead the pack with Kingfisher and Air India bleeding in their own war.
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