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Is Sahara incubating a new airline?

india Updated: Feb 07, 2010 22:38 IST
Lalatendu Mishra

Can a high-flying business tycoon keep away from aviation?

Alok Sharma, Air Sahara’s former president and CEO, said to be a close confidant of Sahara group chairman Subrata Roy, has started a general aviation company, fuelling speculation that the founder may be trying a second coming in the troubled but alluring airline business.

Air One, an aviation company offering non-scheduled services has begun low-key commercial flights between Mumbai and Aamby Valley, Sahara’s 10,000-acre enclave in the hills near the financial capital.

Roy, who reluctantly sold out his airline to Naresh Goyal’s Jet Airways (Air Sahara is now JetLite), was present at the launch of Air One with Sharma.

Though sketchy, the plans laid out by Sharma’s new airline smell of ambition, though the entrepreneur is distancing his venture from Sahara.

Air One has taken an eight-seater corporate jet from Club One Air on a long-term contract and plans to lease two more, and later buy different types of aircraft. “I have started this company and it has nothing to do with Sahara. It has only the blessings of Saharasri” Sharma said, but added, somewhat cryptically. “You will known more when we formally launch it in six months.”

The key point is that Air One has five distinct divisions covering all facets of aviation, albeit without the tag of a scheduled airline.

Asked if he had any plan to start another airline or if he would like to buy back JetLite, Roy was guarded. “I don’t have any such plans, but cannot rule out anything in the future,” he said last Thursday.

Air One’s name goes well with other Sahara group domain names. The Aamby Valley’s private commando service is called Force One and its entertainment television channel is named Sahara One.

Sharma resigned from Air Sahara after its transfer to Jet and stayed on with the Sahara group as president, marketing and corporate affairs. He did not reveal the source of his funds to launch Air One.

Sahara entered aviation in 1991, much before Jet did. Currently, all it owns is a helicopter fleet for captive use.