Next month, UB group chairman Vijay Mallya’s three-year-old Kingfisher Airlines embarks on its international debut with its maiden flight to London—a city, which also serves as the headquarters of 53-year-old Mallya’s role model Richard Branson’s Virgin Atlantic Airways.
With Kingfisher’s entry, the competition is just about to get hotter on English soil with British Airways and Jet Airways keeping the two flamboyant businessmen company.
“We welcome healthy competition. It keeps us on our toes. You never forget your first time on Virgin Atlantic Airways,” said Neha Lidder Ganju, marketing manager (India) Virgin Atlantic.
And you can be assured of a lot of glitz and glamour as well.
While Mallya is yet to unveil his plans for the London launch of Kingfisher Airlines, Branson made his India debut in style in 2000 by leaping out of the pilot’s window flying the Indian flag when Virgin Atlantic’s maiden flight landed in Delhi. Just before that he rode an elephant on the capital’s streets in royal style.
In 2005, he announced the carrier’s arrival in Mumbai by donning a colourful kurta pyjama and posing with a saree-clad crew while Virgin touched down on the city airport. He even posed with Dabbawallas and played a cricket match to promote his flight.
Branson has profitably run Virgin Atlantic by offering cheaper fares than archrival British Airways and in-flight service by outgoing cabin crew.
“The Virgin success story is based on Richard’s ability to inspire his staff to have the same sense of ownership and entrepreneurial spirit that he has,” David Huttner, managing director of planely spoken, an aviation consultancy in
Antwerp, Belgium told Hindustan Times.
“To truly succeed in the airline service game, you need thousands of staff to act as though it’s their own business,' said Huttner who spent a decade as a Virgin Group airline executive and was the founding commercial chief of Virgin Blue in Australia. “Virgin has done that. Kingfisher’s success will depend on doing the same.”
For now, Mallya has promised the best by turning the voyages into stylish fun flights.
“We will set new standards. Our customers are our guests, not passengers. This is reflected in comforts provided on board together with the hospitality offered by a hand-picked trained crew,” he said in a statement. With this in mind,
some of the features that Kingfisher’s upper class provides are in-seat massagers, a spacious bar, bartender, jacket pressing service, on-board chef and cuisine served on silver utensils. The economy class is also said to be far superior to other Indian carriers.
Many analysts including Huttner agree on Mallya’s vision and determination. “Going by his track record, there is no doubt why he can’t repeat the success internationally. I strongly believe he will do much better than Branson because he has the advantage of improving upon,” said Kapil Kaul, CEO (India), Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation.
A comparison between the two billionaires is only natural.
Both are known for their glitzy lifestyle, risk taking abilities, playboy image and most importantly, owning airlines that are similar in character and colour.
However, while Forbes rates Branson (58) as the world’s 236th richest billionaire with a wealth of $7.6 billion, Mallya’s networth is estimated at $1.2 billion purely through his listed companies.
The world is aware of the bitter rivalry between Branson and British Airways. His ability to succeed despite all odds since Virgin’s inception in 1984 is also a known fact. Mallya may have the same agenda. But, only time will tell whether he would succeed in this business of high stakes.