Fly91, The Ambitious Airline Envisioned By Manoj Chacko, Is Ready To Soar Into The Skies

Fly91’s CEO and Chairman, Manoj Chacko, with ties to Kerala, openly shares insights into his ambitious project and envisioned future.

The indelible portrayal of Nedumaran by Suriya in the 2020 Tamil film “Soorarai Pottru” remains etched in memory. This cinematic masterpiece unfolds the challenges faced by an ordinary man as he endeavors to establish an airline post his tenure in the Indian Air Force.

Driven by a vision, this man aspired to create an airline accessible to the common folk.

Set against the backdrop of 2003, the film captures the zeitgeist of the time. Now, two decades later, another individual is venturing into the aviation sector, echoing the same determination and bravery exemplified by Nedumaran.

“Dreaming holds immense value, demanding dedicated efforts to transform aspirations into reality,” states Manoj Chacko, who is on the verge of turning his aviation dream into a reality in the Indian skies.

His vision involves extending flights to smaller Indian towns, a dream he affectionately calls Fly91. According to Manoj Chacko, the realization of his dream is imminent.

In a surprising turn of events, Fly91 has been established with a fleet of compact aircraft, having obtained the government’s no-objection certificate on April 25.

As the Chief Executive Officer and Chairman of Fly91, Manoj Chacko, who also has ties to Kerala, openly shares insights into his ambitious project and the future he envisions.

Fly91

Your vision is poised to soar in just a few months. Can you recall when the idea for the project first crossed your mind, and what were the initial stages like?

For quite some time, the concept of establishing air connectivity across all regions of India has been on my mind. Contemplating its feasibility has occupied my thoughts for over a decade, a desire that originated during my tenure with the now-defunct Kingfisher Airlines. The airline played a crucial role in linking smaller Indian cities like Hubballi, Mysuru, Kolhapur, Sholapur, Thoothukudi, Thiruvananthapuram, Kochi, among others. Unfortunately, the scarcity of flights connecting these smaller cities has given rise to numerous challenges.

The operational limitations of larger aircraft, such as the A320 and Boeing 737, prevent them from serving these destinations. Only international airports possess the infrastructure to accommodate such planes. Consequently, numerous airports in India remain underutilized due to the absence of smaller aircraft. Introducing a 76-seat aircraft would not only provide relief but also offer an affordable option for flyers. When assessing travel options, people typically consider both travel time and affordability. If the public recognizes the potential of our service to address these factors, a significant demand is likely to emerge. However, the absence of a viable alternative is a critical gap that Fly91 aims to fill.

Coming up with a name for a business can be challenging. How did you arrive at the name Fly91, and what does it signify?

Given that this project is dedicated to our country, I believed the name should reflect a connection with the nation. Incorporating our country code, 91, into the name seemed fitting. The name Fly91 is rooted in the concept that the mission is to elevate India’s capabilities, allowing it to soar. Extensive research and consultations with brand experts were conducted in the process. Despite having several names on the table, Fly91 was chosen for a variety of compelling reasons.

With three decades of experience in the aviation industry, including roles as the CEO and Vice President of Kingfisher Airlines, what inspired you to embark on a new initiative within the same sector?

I’m undertaking this endeavor not for the sake of fame or financial gain, but rather because of my extensive knowledge in this sector. My background spans across three distinct yet interconnected industries. I’ve contributed to the airline sector with experiences at Emirates and Kingfisher, served as the international head of American Express in the travel agency domain, held the position of India CEO at SOTC, and spent five years with WNS Global Service, where I was tasked with globally ranking travel segments. This diverse exposure allowed me to engage with major global airline travel agencies, involving extensive travel and providing me with a comprehensive understanding of this vertical.

As one matures, the significance of contributions to the country surpasses individual accomplishments. The decision to venture into the airline industry is rooted in my wealth of experience and a deep understanding of its requirements. Launching an airline startup is no easy feat, especially considering the substantial capital it demands. Such an endeavor may seem daunting for someone without significant financial resources, but I am a seasoned professional. The dream is materializing as we have secured professional funding, marking a significant step toward realizing this ambitious goal.

Fly91 obtained the no-objection certificate on April 25. What was the process like? Was it challenging to acquire the certificate?

No, there were no challenges. It’s crucial to comprehend our actions. If the filings are executed accurately, there’s no need for concern. In a regulated industry, meticulous documentation is imperative. We fulfilled all requirements within the stipulated timeframe, completing the entire process in just three and a half months. This accomplishment significantly bolstered my self-assurance.

Launching an airline isn’t a spontaneous decision. It demands a clear understanding, knowledge, and experience. Imagine the consequences if I were to perform cardiac surgery solely out of interest, without the requisite expertise. Similarly, airline operations require experience. Presently, the application and documentation process is streamlined online, enhancing efficiency. However, precision remains paramount.

Could you share who inspires you as a role model and the reasons behind your choice?

My role models in the aviation industry are the successful entrepreneurs, particularly three stand out to me. Firstly, Rahul Bhatia and Rakesh Gangwal, the founders of IndiGo, impress me with their unwavering determination, a key factor that catapulted IndiGo to the number one spot in India. Another figure I greatly admire is Adel Abdullah Ali, the CEO of Air Arabia, known for providing top-notch services in the Middle East.

Above all these inspiring individuals, I hold David Neeleman in high regard. As the chief of JetBlue, a major U.S. airline, and the founder of five other successful airlines, including Morris Air, West Jet, Azul Airlines (the largest in Brazil), and Breeze Airways, Neeleman’s accomplishments are truly commendable.

These entrepreneurs energize me as they demonstrate that success is achievable with a profound understanding of the industry. A case in point is Vinay Dube, who successfully introduced Akasa Airline, a testament to his insightful grasp of the aviation sector, resulting in its operational success.

Akasa Air adopts the tagline “It’s your sky,” conveying the accessibility of air travel for the average individual. How does Fly91 distinguish itself from Akasa in this regard?

Numerous distinctions set us apart. Our primary focus is on destinations that currently lack air service from other carriers. We aim to establish connectivity between smaller cities and towns, recognizing that conventional aircraft face challenges in reaching such areas due to inadequate infrastructure. This led us to take on the responsibility of connecting these underserved regions. Additionally, we plan to collaborate with existing airlines rather than engage in direct competition.

For example, there is a gap in connecting a Bengaluru-Kolkata flight with Kolhapur in Maharashtra using conventional aircraft. We are open to partnerships to bridge such connectivity gaps. Embracing advanced technology, particularly through application programming interfaces (APIs), ensures seamless travel. Our technology will extend its reach to all travel agencies nationwide, making Fly91 services accessible to anyone at any time.

What are your thoughts on Tata Group’s acquisition of Air India?

I believe it’s a sound decision, considering the Tata Group’s robust reputation, professionalism, and a century-long presence in the country. This acquisition is poised to enhance the Indian aviation sector.

Are Fly91 schedules to Kerala on the horizon? With the imminent completion of the state’s fifth airport, the prospect is promising. Given the significant influx of visitors to Sabarimala from across South India, do you view this as a potential opportunity?

We have not yet explored the possibility of providing services to Kerala. Presently, large aircraft are already in operation in the region, and there is a need for further development of smaller airports. For instance, if there is a significant number of inquiries about flights from Kannur to Salem, we will contemplate including that route in our operations during the next phase. Initially, our focus is on cultivating the demand for flights to various cities. Subsequently, depending on the volume of inquiries, we will strategize and plan to operate on routes with higher demand.

Your most significant aspirations are on the verge of realization. What comes next?

I possess a well-defined vision of my future actions, encompassing a comprehensive plan for the next five years. My foremost goal is to bring this plan to fruition, involving the deployment of numerous aircraft, establishing schedules across India, and, above all, ensuring the profitability of the company. The ultimate aspiration is to deliver a remarkable experience to our customers through Fly91. These ambitions encapsulate my dreams, and the subsequent one is the actualization of these meticulously laid-out plans.

Securing funding poses a significant hurdle for startups. How were you able to secure the necessary funds?

Certainly. Convergent Finance, a prominent player in the private equity finance sector, serves as the co-founder and anchor investor for Fly91. In addition to this substantial support, the company has also secured individual funding. Recognizing the unique challenges in the aviation industry, where funding plays a pivotal role, Fly91 is committed to comprehensive planning to avoid the pitfalls that have led to the failure of other aviation startups in the past.

What do you anticipate will be the forthcoming developments in the aviation industry over the next five years?

India experiences daily growth, evident even at the macroeconomic scale, and anticipates a crisis-free period for the next decade. This transformative trend is expected to extend to the market, particularly in the heightened activity of the manufacturing sector. This presents a favorable opportunity for the travel industry, and we aim to capitalize on these prospects to the fullest extent.

The introduction of premium train services such as the Vande Bharat Express by the government is underway, and there are discussions about the potential introduction of bullet trains. Could these initiatives not entice a greater number of people to opt for train travel?

I believe that advancements in rail and road infrastructure will positively impact the aviation sector. For instance, the Eurostar takes just three hours to travel from Paris to London, and Amtrak offers comfortable transportation between New York and Washington. China’s frequent bullet trains from Beijing to Shanghai every 15 minutes further illustrate the integration of various modes of transportation. In these regions, air services are abundant, providing travelers with the flexibility to choose the most comfortable mode of transport. These modes complement each other, and our objective is not to compete but to ensure ease of travel for passengers.

How is your family doing?

I hail from Thrissur, although I can’t claim to be entirely rooted there. My parents resided in Goa, where I was born. My father’s residence is in Kunnamkulam, while my mother’s is in Vadakkancherry. We have relatives scattered across Kerala. My family consists of my wife and daughter. Due to work commitments, I spent time in Chennai and Delhi. However, I am contemplating a return to Goa since Fly91 will be headquartered there.

Would you like to share some advice or insights with the younger generation, particularly those aspiring to become entrepreneurs?

Enter the market armed with a robust business model. Avoid launching a startup with the expectation that it will miraculously transform into a unicorn company. Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Baiju Raveendran are exceptional individuals who faced numerous challenges to attain their current status. It’s crucial to have a well-defined plan, strategic thinking, and a dedicated work ethic. Show respect towards finances and those who invest in your venture, understanding that funds come with the responsibility of repayment.

While dreaming is commendable, turning those dreams into reality demands relentless effort and dedication.

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