Mumbai: Religare Voyages Ltd, promoted by Malvinder Singh and Shivinder Singh of Religare Enterprises Ltd, said on Monday that its new regional airline Air Mantra, will start operations on 23 July with daily flights connecting Amritsar and Chandigarh.
Air Mantra will be the first regional airline to be launched in India in five years. MDLR Airlines Pvt. Ltd, the only regional carrier that started operations, stopped flying on 1 October, 2009.
Air Mantra, which has two 17 seater Beechcraft 1900D aircraft, was started with the intent of serving northern India as a regional airline by Religare Voyages, which began five years ago with the launch of air charter services.
The ministry of civil aviation’s vision of connecting smaller towns and cities by air gave rise to the concept of regional carriers in August 2007. Regional airlines are not allowed to fly crowded routes connecting large cities. Airlines with non-scheduled licences are not allowed to publicize their flight schedules the way carriers such as Jet Airways (India) Ltd or Kingfisher Airlines Ltd can.
Air Mantra has a full-fledged fleet plan for buying turboprop jets including ATRs and Bombardier Q400s, said Sandeep Bhatt, chief executive officer, Religare Voyages.
“We were already operating non-scheduled operations with Beechcraft planes. We converted those planes to get a regional scheduled operation licence to test the market. We will upscale the operations gradually,” Bhatt said, without divulging investment details.
Apart from MDLR Airlines, several companies, including Star Aviation Pvt. Ltd, ZAV Airways Pvt. Ltd, Jagson Airlines Ltd and King Air Pvt. Ltd, were licensed to fly as regional carriers, but none of them could start because of high jet fuel prices and the economic slowdown of 2008.
Significantly, Paramount Airways Pvt. Ltd, a scheduled airline that had a substantial southern focus, suspended operations after the aviation regulator cancelled its operating licence when it fell short of the five aircraft minimum requirement.
Another scheduled airline Kingfisher Airlines has downsized its operations to less than 100 flights a day from 365 flights a day a year ago owing to a cash crunch.
“We are not here to compete with scheduled carriers but we will be complementing them and acting as a feeder carrier to them. There are successful airlines also in India and we are looking at them,” Bhatt said.
A senior airline consultant, requesting anonymity, said airlines are under pressure as jet fuel prices have begun to rise again and the economy is slowing. However, he added that Religare Voyages is starting small and has deep pockets to sustain initial losses.
“With the current oil prices and having Beechcraft for its operations, it might not be a viable plan for Religare Voyages. It might not be viable in practice though it may look viable on paper. I am happy to be proven wrong. The positive side is that well-funded promoters have the capability to sustain the airline,” said Kapil Kaul, chief executive officer (South Asia) at consulting firm Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, or Capa.
The Singh brothers sold Ranbaxy Laboratories Ltd in 2008 to Daiichi Sankyo Co. Ltd, which paid Rs 10,000 crore for their 34.82% stake.
Religare Voyage executives said the company has no cross holdings with the promoters’ flagship company Religare Enterprises, but is functioning as a stand-alone company.
Religare Voyages is part of a family of companies broadly clubbed under the Religare brand that straddle diversified global businesses such as financial services, diagnostics, health and wellness, and information technology.