Saturday, September 5, 2015

Love your Job, Not your company

With over half a decade (just to make it sound nice) of experience behind me, it indeed is a tough task to write about professional experience when asked to. However, I will not shy away from sharing some experiences which could give a fair bit of idea about how my career has been.

There was a pertinent question about my future as I moved out of Air Force in 2007. I appeared for the MBA CET & thankfully cleared it with a good score. The time between deciding to appear & actual exam was less than a month & it was no mean feat is what others felt about getting a good college but till today I continue to thank my luck for it! As I appeared for the Group Discussion, I was asked what I would do post MBA, I would join the airlines sector, was my reply. I did manage to achieve that ambition of mine, joining Kingfisher Airlines in 2009, in the middle of the economic downturn of 2008-9.

During my days in Department of Management Sciences, University of Pune (PUMBA), I kept on discussing with my friends inside and outside the B-School, about how I would end up closing the company I would join. There was a theory which was laughed at even by my colleagues in Kingfisher. I once said, that the industry is bleeding, we should close down Kingfisher and join some industry body and claim that for the larger good of the industry, we sacrificed the smaller good of the company! Little did people know at that time, that Kingfisher indeed would shut down, with the downfall starting from the month I joined with salary payments getting delayed for the first time.

Thankfully I had quit well in time, but this luck continued – when I joined one of the Big 4s in consulting, a close relative called to say that now the company will not close down, the clients may. Well he was true, the company did not, but they did close down the Mumbai office of the division I was working in, luckily again I had left a few days ago and headed to my existing company in Pune, which closed down its Singapore office after my visit few months ago, shifting the sole person to USA – speaking of which I remember how the US government closed (shut-down) for the first time in many years just within days of me landing in USA for my first ever visit in September 2013. When I went there next, in 2014 to Dallas, they found the first patient of Ebola in Dallas, few days after I left!

Personal visits to different countries are no different – The Taksim square riots started after visiting Turkey with my better half and so did the Russian annexation of Crimea and crisis in Ukraine after our visit to Russia in 2013. This trend dates back to 1999, when IC814 was hijacked from Khatmandu exactly a month after I took off from there and the Maoist movement expanded! 

I thought the latest travels to Italy were safe because nothing happened in the country for few months until a massive fire led to temporary closure of the Rome airport from where we had arrived and departed.

After reading this myself I am sure I will continue to make a note of these co-incidences and make it a bigger collection to share, I thought of giving you a different account of this half a decade and hope that you do not imagine me the next time you read – “Buri Nazar wale, tera muh Kala”. What else to say but my advice to everybody is to love their job and not their company, which may cease to exist soon!

Friday, July 17, 2015

Apache High Street - Baner: Limited availability, pathetic service

When places become popular, do they lose focus on quality and service? I have been wondering about this for a long time and a visit to Apache High Street ( 16/7/15) made me think about this even more!

Apache High Street is located in the wonderfully constructed complex housing the cummins building on the ground floor with ample parking and shops yet to be occupied apart from a few. As we made our way post parking, we saw a lot of tables lined up outside. We choose to be seated inside which has a typical ambiance for such a place. Walls decorated in bric red color, a mix of round and rectangular tables, bar on one side and large screen projecting live cricket match.

As were seated, came the menu – shaped like an old record (disc shaped), menu had a lot of options on offer. Three of us were here for Draught beer and there went the order – one tower! Only to be informed in an apologetic tone that tower is not available, so we shifted to the Pitcher –“Sorry Sir, pitcher is also not available”. Well we did not really make our way to Apache for having a pint which is available anywhere! At 8:15pm on a week day if Draught beer is not available, I wonder when they would make it available or is it a weekend only thing!

It took three people to take our short and minimal order, with the third person apologizing for coming again to confirm the order and retake it.

Now that we were already there, we decided to have some vodka and pint of beer as per choice and ordered for Fully Loaded Nachos. The drinks were served in 15 minutes – a lot considering the place wasn’t full and there is no “preparation time”!

Half way into the drink, we enquired about our Nachos and to our surprise, the staff was clueless about this order. Finally it did come, when we were few sips away from the last sip. On asking why it took so long for something which is more or less ready, we got some cryptic answers like there was no body to take the dish – which we hardly understood.
By then the music, which was playing at the right volume started playing at the highest volume probably, which made talking to each other almost impossible.

We asked for the bill and left and went to another place to have more drinks and more food. It made no sense to be at a place which had such a poor service and limited bar menu on offer.

A repeat visit – NO, unless there are no other options.

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Monday, March 2, 2015

From Abu Dhabi to the world – with feed from India

From Abu Dhabi to the world – with feed from India
Analyzing Etihad’s long haul network to United States of America and changes to Abu Dhabi feeders

I have traditionally been a student of domestic network in India trying to remember the history, rotation and traffic patterns for an airport or an airline. Time and again, I rely on some of my friends to understand the international connections and networks. This time around, I decided to team up with Rishul – a student of engineering and a keen follower of Jet Airways network to attempt writing about what the change in Etihad’s USA bank means to the Indian customer. 

Etihad flagged off its 2nd Daily non-stop flight to New York’s John F. Kennedy airport (JFK) on 1st March 2014, where competitor Emirates already operates double daily and direct from neighboring Dubai in addition to one via Milan. Emirates will also add another frequency from March 2015.

However, this is the first of many flights as Etihad starts an aggressive expansion in North America. The airline would start 3 new destinations in the United States within a span of 8 months backed by a strong demand from India which is being fed into Abu Dhabi by its equity partner Jet Airways.

Traditionally network carriers – which work on a hub and spoke model, schedule flights to a region at a particular time. Example – all flights from Europe to India would typically leave around mid-day to reach at night in India and depart so as to reach early morning in Europe. Departures to USA would be at similar time to ensure connectivity from east to west. This departure of flights is known as a bank of departures.

Cost of opportunity
As they say, cost of opportunity cannot be ascertained and when Etihad decided to go ahead and buy a 24% stake in Jet Airways and purchase the Jet Privilege Frequent Flier Program, it also came with an exponential increase in seat allotment from India to Abu Dhabi allowing new frequencies and destinations. While most of the tier II connections will be flown by Jet Airways, the major metro would see expansion from Etihad too.

Etihad Airways had clearly maintained the importance of a strong feed from India and how dipping deep into the Indian market was to play a pivotal role in their planned growth.  With the launch of their flights to Abu Dhabi from Chennai and Kochi, continuing on to Dammam and Kuwait, in the 2nd week of January, Jet-Etihad had given a very clear indication of the hub in Abu Dhabi they were working towards, which was re-enforced by the addition of the Hyderabad and Bengaluru to Abu Dhabi flights from 1st of March.

The hub was structured around the 2nd daily to New-York JFK, operated by a Jet Airways B777 aircraft, leaving Abu Dhabi at 0145 hours Local Time (LT), and returning at 0920 LT the next day, thus adding another bank of departures to the United States, later in 2014 EY added late afternoon departures to 6 India destinations, returning back to AUH by midnight, thus providing an Etihad operated connection to the JFK, newly launched SFO and other European flights.

Jet Airways was supposed to operate this flight but for the downgrade in status of Indian aviation by Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) which now bars any airline in India to add flights to United States. Etihad went on to add flights to Dallas Fort-Worth and Los Angeles using the 77Ls they had acquired from Air India. 

Coinciding with the enhanced availability of the US Preclearance, 9W-EY announced a major overhaul of schedules to their India - AUH - North American flight structure, w.e.f  29th March 2015. While in actual addition were just 21 weekly flights from Ahmedabad, Mangalore and Pune, along with additional wide body services from Etihad, there was a major shift in timings of Etihad's North-American Departures.

While Emirates has a mixed departure bank to USA, Etihad is trying to get maximum early morning arrivals into USA and could see further time changes in the next season as the India feed stabilizes.
  • To Toronto and Chicago from Abu Dhabi – which now leave late night from Abu Dhabi reaching early morning at destination.
  • Delaying the departure from New York to popular late afternoon 1530 hours, along with re-timing San Francisco departure so ensure that the arrival bank is stronger than ever.

Etihad now has two very prominent USA departure / arrival banks
  • Red eye departures to New York, San Francisco, Toronto, Chicago; returning back between 1200 – 1300 hours LT.
  • Mid-morning departures to Los Angeles, New York, Dallas; returning back during late evening hours.

This is far cry from Emirates bank to New York, Seattle, Houston, Boston, Los Angeles and San Francisco – which leaves mid-morning and returns late evening and flights to Dallas and Washington along with the second frequency to New York which leaves post-midnight returning in the afternoon.

Qatar Airways flies to seven destinations in the United States – all in one bank of mid-morning departures, barring Philadelphia which departs post mid night and does not connect to any Indian destination within an acceptable connection time. With just one bank of flights to India, the options are limited but connections are perfect.

Etihad would look at two banks of arrivals at Abu Dhabi from India
  • First between 2200 and 0100 which sees arrival from ten destinations and another between 0600 and 0800 from another 10 destinations
  • A mini Jet Airways hub at Abu Dhabi with flights from Hyderabad and Chennai going onwards to Dammam and Kuwait City.
  • One Mega departure bank between 2100 and 2300 with departures to 13 destinations
  • Connection from a total of 23 cities in India to Abu Dhabi and many more in second phase

Combined 9W-EY India Operations
Etihad with equity partner Jet Airways would operate 217 weekly flights to India effective 29th March 2015 as compared to 95 of Qatar and 188 of Emirates. While Emirates operates all wide body aircraft, Etihad – Jet Airways would operate the narrow body B737s for all of their flights to Tier-II cities.
Image Source:

With the new timings and addition of another bank of departure, Etihad – Jet Airways combine would connect Indian cities to New York, Chicago, San Francisco, Toronto, Dallas, Los Angeles, Washington in a seamless sub 3 hour connection, which is most preferred with travelers.

What would add up to this is the pre-clearance facility at Abu Dhabi which means that you land in USA as a domestic passenger having done your immigration during transit at Abu Dhabi.

Cities like Mangalore, Goa, Lucknow and Pune which see limited competition have longish connection times for few cities. Passengers from these cities tend to look for flying out of their own city rather than change flights at one of the hubs in India and then again in Middle east or Europe.

With fast expanding network of Etihad not just to United States but also to Europe and Etihad investing in Alitalia and Etihad Regional in Europe – passengers from tier – II cities in India are an attractive lot who can now transit at Abu Dhabi and reach their destination one stop.
While this change means a lot for feeder traffic, it also has positive implications for traffic originating in United States with New York, San Francisco and Chicago getting early morning arrivals. The differentiator here would be pre-clearance, however this will continue to be a tough market for Etihad with Emirates mounting flight after flight and upgrading flights to A380.

This change gives a big boost to Jet Airways aircraft utilization – from parking the planes overnight at Abu Dhabi, they will not have a full rotation. The existing utilization which has already crosses 11.7 hours, could well cross 12 hours post this change.
The bonding between Jet Airways & Etihad will only increase from here on as the inter dependency increases, with the entire bank to Unites states dependent primarily on feed from India for Etihad and the Abu Dhabi shuttles of Jet Airways dependent on Etihad to be filled up.

A little over a year after the deal went through 15 of 23 destinations are already connected to Abu Dhabi. As people say, India - USA market is so dynamic and diverse, that an airline doesn't have to target growth, it has to merely position itself in the most comfortable way to get the best out of it. So, as Emirates darts A380s to the US with an tremendous network feed, QR fully integrates itself into the One World structure,  Air India with incredible India penetration this is the path Etihad has chosen to grow on this sector.

Hard Product
The San Francisco and (2nd daily) New York flights are operated by Jet Airways configured 77Ws, consistency of hard product becomes a problem, business travelers and frequent flyers have always shown an inclination towards familiarity, and while the Jet Airways’ 77Ws have a fairly good hard product, the 737s, can't match up to EY's A320s, all of which on the whole creates a negative impact on frequent fliers. Even though, Etihad and partners are moving towards a single hard product, it is still some distance away as of now. 

Tail Note
Etihad would find it easy to fill up flights from Tier – II destinations to Abu Dhabi and onwards to Europe and USA as compared to Mumbai or Delhi. The two leading metros have direct connectivity to USA with Air India and United. With Abu Dhabi – USA being a 15 hour non stop flight, the comparable flight from Mumbai or Delhi drops you in Newark or Chicago. The odds of flying these are more if the final destination is not on the network map of Etihad. Etihad will have to grow rapidly in the United States in the next one year.

The airline has been struggling to get hold of the Indian market, even when it is growing leaps and bounds. The next focus, we believe would be on improving the hard product, standardizing it and focusing on marketing and sales efforts. 

There would be more in store from the partnership when India is upgraded to Category – I status by FAA, when the airline may launch a India – Abu Dhabi – Chicago by its own B777s either from Mumbai or Delhi and take a decision on its limited operational hub at Brussels.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Serendipitous Sighting - A visit to Tadoba Andhari Tiger Reserve

Aapko Dikha?”, “Nahi, dusri gypse wale bata rahe the unko dikha, aapko dikha kya?”, “nahi hame bhi nahi dikha”

This is a recurring discussion, happening whenever another 4x4 passes by in the jungles of Tadoba, as we crisscross the jungle to see the elusive Tiger. This is our second safari of the three we booked and the only one in the evening. Freezing cold in the morning makes us believe that the Tiger is not going to come out of its resting area and this is our only chance to see the Tiger.

Located 30 kms from Chandrapur, and 150 kms from Nagpur, Tadoba – Andhari Tiger reserve [TATR] is the oldest and largest in Maharashtra and covers an area of roughly 630 square kilometers.

We decided to spend a weekend in Tadoba and booked three rides from Moharli gate, which allows a maximum of 30 vehicles per shift and reports maximum sightings out of 5 gates at Tadoba.

We reached Tadoba the previous night and stayed at one of the newly set up tented accommodation – United 21 Tiger Camp. The beautiful tents with amenities do not help keep the cold away and more so when the news reaches that Nagpur has recorded the season’s low of 50 C. and Tadoba would be cooler by about 2-3 more degrees. A quick tea, followed by adding layers of clothes on our body, makes us a little comfortable as we await dinner in the tented restaurant. Chicken, Dal, Rice, Vegetable, Roti, Papad and a dessert – we are more than happy to settle for the night with one thought – will getting up at 4:30AM the next morning be all worth it?

The rules for arranging the vehicles have changed recently and the hotel manager is confused. With some calls and asking around, he manages to get two 4x4’s for 6 of us and we quickly settle in to make a 3 kilometer dash to the main Moharli gate.

It’s still pitch dark, when we make our way to the forest office to show the ID cards and the permit – registered online two months ago. We join a long queue of vehicles – all open 4x4’s as everybody awaits the clock ticking slowly to hit 6:00AM, when the gates open in winter.

At 8:30AM, restlessness sinks in, two and half hours in the jungle has yielded nothing but few common birds, a bunch of monkeys, spotted deer and occasional sambar. The enthusiasm is wearing out. Our guide painstakingly tells us the history of this place and explains the various zones, problems of the park and that occasional state transport bus which still crosses the park to make its way to district HQ of Chandrapur. 

 At 10:30AM we head back from wherever we are, disappointed to not have spotted the tiger. On the way back till the gate, the guides tell us this could be because of the spell of rainfall which the park witnessed three days ago.

Breakfast is ready at the hotel when we reach and that is followed by a quick Vegetarian meal after which the 4x4’s are ready again for the evening safari. In the second safari, we have seen most of the mammals for the second time, we now know which route we are going to take and what we will be seeing next. The only change is an occasional owl or eagle, which we did not spot in the morning. Heart sinks, when a 4x4 stops and says, “Subah jate waqt teen gypsy ko tiger dikha, Sonam raasta cross karke jhadi mein gae hai, kill udhar hai” (Three vehicles saw tigress Sonam this morning, the tigress crosses the main road and went in the bushes where they suspect she has killed an animal)

Tigers are named across National Parks, while Bandhavgarh has had Charget, Sita & B2, Ranthambore has had Machli. Tadoba, which is home to around 60 tigers as per our guide, has Sonam, Tara, Maya, Gabbar, Yeda Anna and many more…

Day two ended with another sumptuous round of food but disappointment about the tiger. Next day would be our last safari in the jungle, before we head back to Nagpur. As if it was a routine, the entire family was up and ready at 5:30AM in the chill – thanks to the hotel being on the banks of reservoir of Erai Dam. The 4x4’s made their way to the gate again, as we did the now familiar process of identification and waited for the clock to strike 6AM. The guides had a different plan today, to first show us the Andhari river and then start the regular circuit with first visiting the Telia lake, followed by other areas.

As we entered the Telia lake area, we saw a bunch of vehicles and excited tourists pointing towards the other bank of the lake. “Udhar hai, pathar ke upar, jhadi ke niche” ( there she is, just above the stones and below the grassland) was the first intimation that we are going to see the Tiger. Little straining of eyes and using binocular (10x50) gives a complete picture of the majestic Tigress- Sonam, resting near the lake. “arey apne paas dekh rahi hai” (she is looking at us) says the next voice from another vehicle as the morning calm is filled with umpteen camera clicks from everybody all around. More 4x4’s join in and the jostle to find a vantage point leads to the forest department vehicle ordering all vehicles away.

As we start moving, Sonam stops to drink water and then crosses the lake from the shallow area to come over to this bank – only to disappear in dense forest there on. As irony would have it, the person with longest lens to his camera has to be helped to see where the Tigress is!

The day here on is spent in searching for more Tigers around the park, but as the guide had said on the first day, “chehra dekh ke hi pata chalta hai, inko tiger dikha ken ahi” – You know if the person saw the tiger or not by looking at his face. Our faces have lit up as we criss cross the park yet again. Half an hour before the park closes, we make another dash to Telia – hoping that Sonam the tigress has decided to roam around a bit and explore some more area. Back to the hotel, the feeling is of an successful trip as we pack and make our way to Nagpur !

As has been the case before, every trip to the jungle ends with a plan of making another trip to another jungle !

Best Season: For maximum sightings, the best season is summer – when tigers come near the main roads and sit in the waterhole which is serviced by tanker. However, summers can be harsh with temperatures exceeding 45C daily. Weather wise the best season is from February to April.

Safari: The safari bookings open 60 days in advance and need to be booked online. The bookings fill up very fast. Maximum vehicles are allowed from Moharli gate. The park is closed on all Tuesdays. There are two safari’s a day.
The permit costs INR 1265 for a maximum of 6 people and the cost of guide and 4x4 is additional which is to be paid before the safari starts. Rules change often, but currently it was INR 2300 per safari.

Connectivity: Nearest Railhead is Chandrapur (30kms) on Delhi – Hyderabad / Chennai line and nearest airport is Nagpur (150kms). The resort can arrange a taxi for pick up. Alternately taxies are available at Nagpur Airport.

Accommodation: There are ample accommodation options at Tadoba near all gates. The MTDC property is closer to Moharli gate. We stayed at United-21 Tiger Camp, an upcoming property, which currently has 20 luxurious swiss tents. The cost was INR 3000 per person per night on twin sharing inclusive of all meals. 

About the authors:
Priyanka Sharangpani - Joshi is a lawyer by profession & a passionate traveler. Priyanka is founding partner at Lex Credence, a law firm based out of Pune. She dreams of visiting all continents in the next 10 years!

Ameya Joshi is a Management professional who dreams of completing atleast one Round the world trip and loves to personally route each trip. His dream destinations Moscow & Istanbul already visited, he now tries saving for a trip to Tahiti.

Both of them are looking for sponsors for a Round the World Trip.

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Leading the pack yet again - IndiGo now corners 36.4% market share

Summarizing 2014
2014 was a year of mixed emotions for Indian Aviation. The industry returned to growth after a brief hiatus post the fall of Kingfisher Airlines and in the latter half of the year saw reduction in prices of Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) on global cues.

With this came the unprecedented but widely forecasted crisis at Spicejet, after few steady months. The year which started on a good note for Spicejet, having performed better than IndiGo in its much touted On Time Performance (OTP) ended with one of the worst performances on the same parameter for the airline, recording a low of 47% on time departures at Delhi in December’14.

Go Air, launched a new station – Bhubaneshwar and deferred delivery of its 20th aircraft, Air Asia had muted performance with expansion nowhere close to what was being discussed and published.

Jet Airways was resurgent with funding from Abu Dhabi’s Etihad and subsequent changes, while only other Full Service carrier Air India had its own share of problems with the technical glitches on the Dreamliner’s and engineering issues on the Narrow bodies yet made it to Star Alliance.

Well, that leaves us with IndiGo – which continued to expand with more flights between metros and launching flights to few more domestic and international destinations. The airline also, for the first time decided to induct aircraft available in open market as a stop gap arrangement till the A320 NEO are inducted.

IndiGo continued to be a market leader, closing the year with a market share of 31.8% followed by Jet Airways and its subsidiary Jetlite at 21.7%. National carrier Air India garnered 18.4% while Spicejet cornered 17.4%. Go Air failed to breach the double digit mark and ended the year at 9.2% with Air Costa and Air Asia closing at insignificant 0.9% and 0.5% respectively.

2015 begins
Passengers grew 21.33% MoM in January 2015, an indication of return of good times and assertion that growth in capacity is followed by growth in passenger numbers.

The year started with news of change in ownership at Spicejet and launch of Vistara. Both will have an impact on the market in these 12 months of 2015. However, at the end of January, Spicejet was still struggling to get its act in order with an On Time Performance (OTP) of just 34% at Delhi in January. Indeed most of it was affected by fog, but it wasn’t fog alone which led to this performance.

The OTP remained an issue for all airports across the country due to the fog in North & East India which was around for a prolonged period than yesteryears. Normally unaffected stations also saw fog this year which compounded the problem.

January 2015 saw a total of 62.45 lakh passengers taking to the skies, with the month clocking marginally lower Load Factors than December 2014.

Jet Airways clocked the maximum load factors of 87.4 percent for flights operated under Jetlite code (S2) and 87 percent for those operated under Jet Airways (9W), while the lowest load factors were clocked by new comer Vistara which recorded 45.4 percent. Vistara did not have complete month of operations and this was its first month, thus this is too early to judge the performance.

Spicejet saw maximum cancellations and also maximum complaints – a trend that should reverse very soon as funding is tied up and operations are back to normal.

IndiGo continued to outperform competition in market share as well as On Time Performance with overall On Time Performance of 73.3% and a market share of 36.4%. Spicejet had the worst On Time Performance with less than 50% of its flights being on time. This is largely due to its performance at Delhi being hit to a low of 34%.

Go Air has seen its market share slip from over 10% which it achieved twice last year to less than 9% now. With no addition to capacity, the airline will find it tough to hold on to the market share. However, the airline continues to have some monopoly or duopoly routes which the competition is not after. This is either due to slot constraints at Mumbai or the leaders fighting it out with the newbies in the market.

Challenges Ahead
2015 will be a challenging year, Vistara would be flush with funds to expand and Air Asia would be hoping to get back on track with newer routes, planes and a massive expansion if they have to sustain. So far it looks like IndiGo has been able to contain them and made them re-think on the plans they had. Jet Airways will continue its expansion to its middle eastern hub of Abu Dhabi with flights from Ahmedabad and Pune on agenda effective March. This year will also give us an answer on the European hub strategy of Jet Airways.  Spicejet will get its strategy in place with respect to Q400 and B737 and will have another “NEW” network this year.

If all goes well, by year end IndiGo may receive the all new A320 NEO. Spicejet would hope to stabilize the network and operations in first half of the year and take a decision on the Q400s by mid-year. Go Air could well be the next airline to start international operations, most likely a short hop from Mumbai or Delhi.

Lastly, the government will have to get its house in order and iron out differences on the revised Route Dispersal Guidelines and revise the 5/20 rule at the earliest. The battle for Noida airport will increase from here on and so would this be a critical year for Navi Mumbai. Any delay now, will mean the airport opening certainly gets pushed post next general elections

I can only hope for a great 2015 for Indian Aviation !

Monday, February 23, 2015

Aero India 2015 - Photo essay