Everyone will have a fascination for something or the other. My all time fascinations are: Elephants, Trains and flights. Mainly because they are huge and not very easy to have a sight of ( every 90’s kid would have had at-least one amongst the three in their fantasies). However, the first two were easily affordable. So, in a short time I could bring my fantasy to real. I was a five year old standing under an elephant, looking into it’s tiny eyes. Such a huge creature seeing the world in such tiny eyes. It’s strength hidden behind the big flappy ears. Nature’s majestic creations. And later sometime in my life I did travel in a train sitting by a window side, wind hitting my face. Nothing else can match these experiences. However, my last fantasy to fly was never fulfilled for a very long time. And most of us would have gone through this, mainly because of the expensive flight charges. Oh, this is not a sympathy seeking blog post but a post that reveals an average Indian middle class and how a single man’s efforts changed many lives forever.
Raise your hand if you had this flight experience;p
When you read this now, it might seem insignificant. But these times did exist and we were all a part of it. Then came a man with perseverance and struggles that gave him the strength to break all the odds, to provide a low cost airlines in the year 2003. It was the ‘Air Deccan’ that said ‘Simplfly’. Yes, it was G R Gopinath, an Indian entrepreneur, the founder of Air Deccan, a retired Captain of the Indian Army, an author, and a politician who made our lives simpler.
Disclaimer: This is not going to be another Wikipedia page of him.
Some flashback about his early life and passion for flying:
Gopinath was born in Melkote, Mandya on 13 November 1951 brought up in Gorur a remote village in Karnataka’s Hassan district. He finished his schooling and joined the NDA later completed his graduation from IMA. He served the Indian army for almost 8 years and at the age of 28 took a retirement. He returned to his village and started with some organic farming. But unfortunately a dam breaks in the village and his farming is completely destroyed. With the help of government aid he starts silkworm farm hoping to earn some livelihood from it. However, he struggled through and hardly could gain any profit.
It was during this time, that the Indian govt (in 1990’s) announced the requirement for new Indian entrepreneurs for aviation projects. During those times, the only 3 main airline companies were Air India, Jet airways and Air Sahara. So, the government wanted new entrepreneurs to make cheap and affordable airlines. Gopinath after hearing this, starts to knock every possible door yet was always rejected and was made fun of his impractical dreams.
This picture above clearly shows his attitude. He had nothing in his pockets, but his heart was only filled with a dream that made him ‘The unstoppable Indian’. It was then that he met his friend Captain K J Samuel in Bangalore with whom he partnered to start an commercial helicopter company. This business was mainly involved in carrying politicians and millionaires when required, like a chartered plane. It was also involved in many rescue missions in India and Sri Lanka. This company became one the largest private air charter company in the history of India.
It was during this time that Gopinath realised that his efforts to grow, never changed any common man’s life. During one of his travel with a guest in the helicopter to a village, he saw the kids going crazy to just see the helicopter. It was then he owned a dream, that will provide the flying experience to every Indian.
Facts: Until 90’s it was seen that only 1% of the Indians had the opportunity to fly. That’s how bad it was.
Gopinath with great struggle decides to buy an airplane for 5 crores. He clearly plans that this flight is going to places inside India, where other flights have not been. Small airports like Mysore, Madurai and many smaller town gets exposed to ‘Air Deccan’. Every average middle class Indian takes these flights with affordable prices.
The company started with one pilot, within 45 days have 500 of them with a total employees count crossing over the five thousand. Making a lot of profit and also giving a greater satisfaction.
The first advertisement for Air Deccan was one heart melting experience. Here, have a look!
Obviously when something good is happening especially in an industry like aviation which is all about money, a villain was in the picture. The other airlines also started to provide flights to such cities with a price lower than Air Deccan. This severely affected the newly budding company.
Now is when Gopinath meets the kingfisher owner. The now hiding Vijay Mallya then had promised to fund the Air Deccan, Gopinath was pushed into this merger because of the loss that the company was going through. The evil once again took over and Gopinath was forced to leave the company. He knew that this was not the end.
An interesting answer he gave to the press when asked about his failures:
‘A Bee is not naturally born to fly, see it’s wings they are very thin and small. Yet it flies, that’s because it flaps the wings very fast. This is where my hard work and perseverance lies. I’m a possessed man, would do anything for my dreams.’
Air Deccan 2.0
The name Air Deccan 2.0 seems simple but the efforts that went into it was unimaginable. The second innings began for Gopinath in 2017. Operating under the brand name Air Deccan, the operations commenced in December 2017 with flights between Mumbai and Nashik. Air Deccan operate 19-seater Beechcraft 1900D turboprop aircraft that are suitable for short-haul flights. The airline planned to connect Delhi, Mumbai, Kolkata and Shillong to regional towns in the vicinity of these cities. This aircraft was probably the smallest plane till date used for commercial aviation in India. It has only 19 seats. With one seat for cabin crew, only 18 is left for a passenger.
This was very well known for the Rs.1 ticket prices as well. In one of the news reports said that ‘Air Deccan, India’s first domestic low cost airline, is set to relaunch operations this month with what it is remembered for the most — Rs 1 tickets’. In an interview by Hindustantimes Gopinath also revealed that ‘Some of the initial lucky people will be able to get Rs 1 fares also, even though most tickets will start at about Rs 1,400 for a 40-minute Nashik-Mumbai flight, a distance that would take four hours to cover by road.
Under the scheme named UDAN by the Indian government, air Deccan started the second innings. Airfares were capped at Rs. 2,500 per person for an hour’s flight to Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities in which the government will provide subsidy for keeping tickets at low prices. It was aimed at improving air connectivity to Tier-2 and Tier-3 cities. The financial express also said that ‘Air Deccan was launched amid a booming Indian economy and a growing middle class and the airline targeted middle-class travellers with its low fares and extensive route network. Tickets cost around 30% less than those of full-service airlines and cost about the same as or less than first class rail tickets. Air Deccan focused on providing air service to underserved airports across the country, where competition was low and the airline could acquire a loyal customer base.
Interior of the Beechcraft 1900D
More details on the Air Deccan 2.0 is elaborated in this blog do go and visit this link: http://www.airlineblog.in/2017/12/10-interesting-facts-about-air-deccan-relaunch.html?m=1
And the journey continued…
An autobiography that inspired many was published by him under the title name ‘Simply Fly’. Here are some of his interviews that you might want to visit after reading this blog
This great man’s story of flight is also going to be seen in big screens very soon. Yes, the director of ‘Saala Khadoos’ Sudha has directed her next movie in tamil with the most amazing south Indian actor Suriya under the name ‘Soorarai pottru’ which is releasing soon. This will visually inspire you to live your dreams!
Uff!! you guys feel that this is too much information, then you are wrong. This is just a dot in the life of an inspiring man’s life. There are many more such inspiring stories out there. If at all this entire blog was to be told in one line then it would be the king khan of Bollywood Shah Rukh Khan’s dialogue (do read it in his style)
‘Do not underestimate the power of a common man’
And remember you are a common man too!
Concluding this with a quote that G R Gopinath believed every young entrepreneur should become:
“Lose yourself in action, not in despair”