November’s biggest aviation news was the opening of Jazeera Airways’ Kuwait – London route. In a stroke, Jazeera broke the 55-year-old duopoly held by the two countries national carriers by offering a lower cost alternative. There’s a backstory here too… Jazeera Airways are one of a handful of the world’s airlines to be bullishly adding routes and building profits. We sat down with the man behind its growing success, the redoubtable Rohit Ramachandran.
With less than three years under your belt at Jazeera Airways, you’re already bucking the trend and actually making money out of running an airline. What’s your secret? Why you and Jazeera? Why so few others? Firstly, I inherited a fundamentally good business, with very supportive stakeholders who had a strong vision for the future development of the airline. What we have managed to achieve as a team here is to focus fanatically on keeping our cost base under control whilst identifying new routes for our expansion plan which have delivered profit from Day 1. I can’t comment on others but we are only one of very few airlines in the region that are truly profitable. The ‘’why’’ is that there are different agendas; but as a private business, listed on the Kuwait stock exchange, we have a responsibility to shareholders to deliver a return and we are committed to that objective.
The new LGW route – aimed at a new breed of leisure and business traveller? The new breed is actually a traveller who has already benefited from Jazeera’s low cost proposition in the Kuwait market for the past 14 years. Great value has been something lacking on the London route. We are the first alternative to the two main carriers serving the UK capital in 55 years! The route was literally crying out for a low cost option and we have filled that gap.
What’s next for Europe? A second UK destination? Or something central continental? We are looking carefully at the LGW performance to see what we do next. Additional UK flights is certainly a possibility – we could increase the frequency to LGW or open a new destination such as Manchester. We are also evaluating other European routes – especially seasonal summer destinations for next year. We’ll release more news on that in the new year.
Jazeera’s fares are ultra-competitive – but not in the sphere of budget flights. What’s the red-line you won’t cross in terms of cutting frills to save $$$s on fares? Well, obviously we don’t compromise on safety. That’s a given. We do offer good quality cabin interiors for essential comfort but we’re not luxurious. LCC is in our DNA – we charge for food and baggage and other ancillaries. Yes, we provide free inflight entertainment but that is because we can make money from advertising revenues to fund it. Essentially we are like most LCCs. Our unique point of difference is that we own and operate our own terminal so we can control the passenger experience from check-in to boarding. Whilst that’s an investment we have the upside of airport revenues other airlines do not have.
What are the trends in aviation we need to be aware of now? How is environmental awareness going to affect the growth of airlines? Also, is it still about fine foods and multi-channel seat-back TVs? Or comfort, service? Or is the future increasingly cost driven? That’s a very wide-ranging question. To keep it simple: first trend is with our A320neo fleet we are moving into what were traditional wide-bodied, long haul destinations. The jury is out on whether LCCs can successfully run a long haul network using wide-bodied aircraft. But the extended range of the A320neo allows us to use narrow-body aircraft for over 6 hours+ flying and be profitable. Second, this aircraft is more fuel efficient, has fewer CO2 emissions and 50% less noise. That’s a win-win for the environment and for the airline. Inevitably I’m sure we will see the development of completely carbon-free electric aircraft in the future, mirroring what is going on in the automotive industry. Thirdly, cost management in such a fiercely competitive industry is always going to be of paramount importance but that does not mean less for the traveller – in fact airlines will be offering more options, but the customer will have to pay for them on an à la carte basis, according to their needs.
You’re a constant traveller, Jazeera doesn’t serve every destination you head to. Who do you most look forward to flying with on routes not covered by your own airline – and why? Ideally my flights will be booked based on time performance and good service.
Five quick questions with Rohit Ramachandran The art of packing: what goes in your flight bag first? What do you never travel without? My iPad. Tips for the businessman who’s looking to travel light? Carry-on only! How do you pass your time on board? Laptop, reading, napping? All three, if there’s time. Favorite airport? Jazeera Terminal 5 at KWI “If I wasn’t running an airline I would be….” Well, I’m actually a frustrated rock band musician!