Our offerings including Pets on Akasa, Café Akasa, safety manual in Braille, have been introduced to ensure that all our passengers can depend on us for an inclusive warm, comfortable and efficient flying experience, says Co-founder and Chief Commercial officer, Praveen Iyer
The crew uniforms and sneakers have been designed with eco-friendly and recycled materials that not only ensures steady comfort, but also incorporates sustainability in our day-to-day functioning Opting out of the traditional water cannon salute, using eco-friendly and recycled materials for crew uniform, allowing pets on flight and safety manual in braille are a few elements which makes Akasa Air different from the rest.
Akasa Air is offering some long awaited user experiences in the Indian aviation ecosystem. In an exclusive interview with SakshiPost, Akasa Air Co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer, Praveen Iyer talks to Reshmi AR about the company’s ambitious expansion plans.
It’s been six months into launching commercial operations, has it been a smooth landing for you?
On 7th Feb, we mark 6 months of operations, a critical milestone. They have been extremely rewarding for us. With a current fleet size of 16 aircraft and having launched 14 destinations across the country, it is safe to say that we have been rapidly expanding our operations since inception. Our industry first offerings and customer centric policies such as pets on board, USB ports, and a comfortable cabin experience have been widely appreciated by our customers. An affordable airline that does not compromise on the customer experience was long awaited in the Indian aviation ecosystem and the fact that we have already flown more than 1 million passengers as of January 2023 is a testament to that. We will continue to expand our operations and service offerings to offer a refined customer experience.
As the sixth largest urban agglomeration in the country, Hyderabad boasts of a large number of knowledge-based industries such as technology, pharmaceutical, and medicine, in addition to popular tourist attractions. The launch of operations from Hyderabad to Goa and Bengaluru, not only caters to the blend of business and leisure tourism, but also intensifies our connectivity in the southern part of India, which is in line with our aim to boost the country’s economy by strengthening its important transportation linkages. We are hopeful that customers will appreciate the Akasa experience, and we will soon be the preferred carrier on this route.
Several airlines thrive on the basis of On time arrival and departures, what measures have you taken to make Akasa Air a dependable airline?
There’s a tremendous opportunity and a need in a very transactional environment to create something inclusive for our customers. Our service is delivered through warmth and empathy backed with the right product experience, and affordable fares, and I believe this is what will help us succeed.
While fares are always market-driven, affordability and bringing value to our customers is something we’ll always look to do. In other words, the service side of it is the USP and differentiator, which we are riding on.
We also have conviction and confidence in the people who are going to deliver this. We have put in a lot of effort and time for the right selection of our in-flight and ground staff colleagues. Our teams are demonstrating the beliefs we spoke about. It’s not only the ground staff and in-flight colleagues, but also the teams managing customer feedback. We are focusing on how we take the feedback that we get in its true sense and spirit and reach back to the customer to provide the right solution, if and wherever required.
Moreover, Akasa Air’s focus has been on connecting people, cultures and cities. We have got off to a great start and our goal is to run a world-class airline, which is what we have endeavoured to do in these last few months.
It has been fulfilling, not just for us, but for all 1800+ employees of Akasa.
o Since our operations commenced in August 2022, we have been progressively scaling up our operations. We have taken delivery of 16 aircraft, carrying over 1 million revenue passengers within six months from the start of our operations.
o We have announced a total of 23 unique routes across 14 cities, namely Ahmedabad, Bengaluru, Kochi, Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi, Guwahati, Agartala, Pune, Visakhapatnam, Lucknow, Goa, Hyderabad and Varanasi.
o We will continue to grow our network to establish a strong pan-India presence focusing on the metro to tier 2 & 3 route connectivity, using a fleet expansion plan that adds one new aircraft every 15 days.
How different will be your customer experience from the rest of the airlines?
Akasa Air strives to be the country’s most dependable airline, and even though this will be a journey in itself, all our efforts and decisions are directed towards achieving this goal. Exclusive elements like USP ports, extra legroom, softer cushions and low in-cabin pressurization come together to proffer a relaxing and comfortable journey, this has been widely appreciated by Akasa flyers. What truly sets us apart is the unique combination of affordability and a warm and efficient customer experience. Our inclusive and customer friendly services have been designed keeping in mind the needs and expectations of today’s travellers. Our offerings including Pets on Akasa, Café Akasa, safety manual in Braille, have been introduced to ensure that all our passengers can depend on us for an inclusive warm, comfortable and efficient flying experience.
Can you elaborate on sustainability listed as one of your values?
We are cognizant of the environmental impact that comes with operating an airline and have endeavoured to reduce our carbon footprint and give back to the communities in which we operate. To start with, our brand-new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft is powered by highly fuel-efficient CFM leap engine that reduces fuel use and carbon emissions by 20%. The crew uniforms and sneakers have been designed with eco-friendly and recycled materials that not only ensures steady comfort, but also incorporates sustainability in our day-to-day functioning. Further, our perishable inflight meals are packaged in paper that is ethically sourced from sustainably grown crops and is accompanied with 100% recyclable and biodegradable cutlery. We have also opted out of the traditional water gun salute that typically marks the arrival of new aircraft and station launches in the aviation industry.
What are your plans to scale up the business? Tell us about the next cities you are targeting?
As an airline, we are continuously evaluating opportunities to expand our fleet and network. Having recently announced the addition of Varanasi to our network, we now operate to 14 destinations across the country with over 600 weekly flights, serving 23 unique routes. We currently have a total of 16 aircraft in our fleet and are expecting to reach a fleet size of 72 aircraft by the next four years, using a fleet expansion plan that adds one new aircraft every 15 days. We have steadily scaled up our operations in the past six months and have already flown 1M+ passengers since the launch of our operations on 7th August 2022. We will continue to focus on strengthening our connectivity across all major points in the country, including Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities, which is in line with our aim to boost the country’s transportation system and support the nations development.
You have industry first offerings and festival menu on your flight. How has the feedback been?
We are committed towards providing a holistic flying experience to our customers and have introduced various industry first offerings to ensure the same. Our pets on board policy have allowed 200+ pets to fly with their owners so far, this initiative has garnered an extremely positive response from pet parents which can be testified by the increasing number of bookings.
Café Akasa’s year-round festive menus are curated by seasoned chefs to offer a distinguished and a varied culinary experience to our flyers and to maintain the festive spirit even at 35,000ft. We have recently launched a Valentine’s special meal that includes heart-shaped red sauce ravioli pasta and exotic grilled vegetables accompanied with red velvet pastry & a choice of beverage, which will be available on all Akasa flights upon pre booking till 28 February 2023. We will continue to expand our service portfolio with offerings that make air travel more convenient, inclusive and even delightful.
Not every passenger is comfortable having pets around. How do you intend to get that right?
Our pet policy is in line with our promise to be an inclusive and dependable airline. At Akasa, customers are allowed to carry their domesticated cats and dogs either in the cabin or in the hold, depending on their weight. Pets are placed in IATA approved container with specified dimensions that assures their comfort and safety while travelling. This comes as a respite to the pet parents who could not travel by air due to the various complications involved with flying with their pets. With more than 200+ pets flown so far, and an increasing number of bookings every month, we have garnered a positive response from customers and pet owners alike. Inflight safety and comfort of our passengers remains our top priority, hence pets travelling in cabin have been allotted seats that are separate from other passenger seats.
Besides competition, what are the other challenges faced by airlines in the aviation sector? What kind of support has the industry received from the government?
Rising ATF prices coupled with the falling value of rupee against dollar have come across as challenges to all the players in the aviation sector. While ATF amounts for 40% of an airline’s operational costs, most of an airline’s expenditure is pegged to the dollar hence, mounting the financial pressure on airlines. However, we are thankful for the support of the central and state governments that have reduced the taxes on ATF over the past few months, which comes as a respite to all the players in the industry.
How has the passenger traffic been?
Domestic air passenger traffic registered an annual growth of 47.05% in the calendar year 2022 in comparison to the corresponding period of January to December 2021 as per the latest DGCA report. The industry has been witnessing an increasing demand for air travel over the past few months indicating that it is bouncing back with strong force. Since December 2022, the industry has been consistently witnessing 4 lac + passengers on a daily basis. This year will witness the best ever beating pre-covid levels and breaching the 150-mil mark in terms of passenger carriage, At Akasa, we have registered a healthy demand across our network and the fact that we have already flown more than 1M passengers since inception attests that. Travellers are confidently travelling by air, hence driving the steady revival of the aviation industry, and we are hopeful that the momentum will continue.
When can we see Akasa flying the international skies?
We currently have a total of 16 aircraft in our fleet and are expecting to reach a fleet size of 72 aircraft by the next four years, using a fleet expansion plan that adds one new aircraft every 15 days. As we rapidly expand our fleet, we are continuously exploring options and possibilities of entering new markets this year.