Kolkata-based Northeast Shuttles to get 2 aircraft in Sept

Kolkata-based company Northeast Shuttles Pvt Ltd is likely to start operations as a scheduled airline in the north eastern region from October 1.

Set-up in 2008, the airline is now firming up expansion plans, with plans to increase its fleet to six by purchasing four Bombardier CRJ200 jets at an estimated cost of Rs 100 crore. Fleet addition is expected to be complete by September 2014.

According to Shobha. K. Mani, Managing Director of Northeast Shuttles, the two aircraft will be delivered by September this year and the other two a year later.

Once off the ground and her fleet in place, Mani intends to fly to new grounds covering the eastern cities of Kolkata, Ranchi, Patna, Gaya, Rourkela and Jamshedpur. But it’s a long shot.

Initial operations, though, will be restricted to the north eastern cities of Guwahati, Lilabari, Silchar (in Assam); Agartala and Aizawl (in Tripura); Imphal (Manipur) and Dimapur (Nagaland).

Funding

Incidentally, obtaining the necessary funds for the expansion drive is an issue, for a company that clocked average revenues of around Rs 7 crore over the last two years.

Clearly, the need of the hour is funds. Mani and the two other promoters of Northeast Shuttles are willing to divest up to 49 per cent of their stake in favour of either private equity players or other investors.

“ But the investors coming in should have a focus on the north east region,” she adds.

Mani along with Tripura-based entrepreneur Bhanumati Nath Deb Barman, jointly own 67 per cent; the remaining 33 per cent is with Gomukhi Construction.

Turbulence

The five-year old carrier has already been through a variety of air-pockets. Tough times and annual losses between 2008 and 2010 forced the airline to scale down operations.

From a non-schedule operator with daily flights to the north-east (Dimapur, Imphal, Agartala, Aizwal, Silchar and Guwahati), Northeast Shuttles started operating on a charter-basis in these places from 2011 onwards.

Cargo accounts for nearly 50 per cent of its revenues now.

What hit their profitability further was non-availability of hangars (for aircraft maintenance) at Guwahati. Aircraft were to be flown down to Kolkata and parked at the NSC Bose Airport. This impacted operations.

“We were hit hard in 2010-11. Aviation is a tough business and there will be losses in the first three to four years. But if we have the intent, we will see these through,” she adds.

Success

Perhaps it is this doggedness that sees Mani through in a sector, considered to be a man’s world.

For this 45-year-old, her efforts bore fruit earlier this year when Northeast Shuttles became a regional airline – a scheduled operation in to shorter routes.

According to Mani, a no-objection from the Ministry of Civil Aviation has been obtained. Awaiting them before the take-off are technical clearances from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).

(This article was published on July 20, 2013)
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