New Delhi/Bangalore: Finding himself marooned in the Andamans, metaphorically speaking, even as high fliers of the Indian aviation world Naresh Goyal and Vijay Mallya struck what appears to be a path breaking alliance, pioneering aviation personality Capt GR Gopinath, may now be considering retrieving his low cost carrier Air Deccan from within the Kingfisher fold and strike out on a separate path.
Reports suggest that apart from discussing the proposed alliance with Jet at a Kingfisher board meeting, Capt Gopinath, vice-chairman of Kingfisher Airlines, may also make an offer to Kingfisher chairman Vijay Mallya for the erstwhile Air Deccan.
Air Deccan currently sports the livery of Kingfisher Airlines and flies re-incarnated as Kingfisher Red.
In interactions with the media, Mallya has pooh-poohed the chances of any such buyout. He said "there was nothing to buy or sell" for the two airlines were already merged. Also, with Mallya holding a 65 per cent share in the merged airline, any hostile takeover action is effectively prevented, unless he should agree to sell.
"I hold 65 per cent stake in the airline. If there is a so-called bid, we will see it off when it is made," Mallya informed the media yesterday.
According to stock exchange filings, Gopinath has 5.58 per cent stake, and along with his associates may control between 9-10 per cent of the shareholding.
Mallya also said that he had spoken to Capt Gopinath "out of courtesy about the alliance with Jet. He was in the Andamans. He said he was happy with the arrangement (with Jet) and the synergistic benefits."
According to Mallya, the deal with Jet was beneficial for shareholders of both the airlines as it would result in a synergistic benefit of roughly Rs1,500 crore a year. He also stressed that as the proposed alliance rationalised costs and improved profits, benefits would be passed on to the consumers.
In these troubled times, as a global economic slump, rising fares and low consumer confidence take their toll, it is likely that Gopinath now senses that his cherished low cost concept makes more sense than ever before. Industry speculation also suggests that Gopinath might not be very happy about Kingfisher abandoning the low cost model post its merger with Kingfisher.
It is being suggested that Kingfisher Red has already lost significantly on passenger volume as well as market share.
Though this is countered by Kingfisher sources through another set of figures, industry sources suggest that potential investors have already stepped forward to bankroll a Gopinath-led takeover or buyback of the erstwhile Air Deccan.
Valuations are at rock bottom in the current markets, and investors backing Capt Gopinath may be sensing an opportunity. With "full service" providers buckling under, Capt Gopinath may well be sensing his chance to revive his pioneering low cost carrier, Air Deccan.
Capt Gopinath is currently preoccupied with the setting up of a cargo airline and hub in Nagpur. The proposed company, Deccan Cargo, will invest around $25 million in the first phase of operations.