Flight Plan

Deepak Brara: An officer and gentleman

Ashwini Phadnis | Updated on January 07, 2020 Published on January 07, 2020

Brara, who spent nearly four decades with Air India, mostly in the erstwhile Indian Airlines, meant many things to many people

The demise of Deepak Brara, former Commercial Director, Air India, on December 21 while on a trip to Goa with family, came as a shock to everyone who had interacted with him over his nearly four-decade-long stint, mostly with Indian Airlines, and even after he retired six years ago.

Brara was many things to many people. For those from the airline industry, he was among the first batch of management trainees that the erstwhile Indian Airlines employed way back in the 1970s. From there he moved up the ladder, became a member of the board of the merged Indian Airlines and Air India and the managing director of Alliance Air, the regional subsidiary of the airline. He was also instrumental in getting Air India membership to the global airline alliance, Star Alliance.

Along the way, Brara not only showed his intelligence, professionalism and passion for aviation but also made many friends. Says one friend who has known him for over two decades, “He started out as a strict airline officer, slowly softened into a person to turn to for guidance on civil aviation issues and eventually became a person to banter with and have heated arguments about all that is wrong and right in global aviation.” Aloke Singh, a former airline colleague and now an entrepreneur and advisor to CAPA, remembers Brara as “a multifaceted personality, a foodie with considerable cooking skills, an avid reader, a gardener. He had many interests.”

Others love talking about Brara’s professionalism. Calling Brara a person with “formidable domain knowledge and a rare ability to combine an overarching vision for the airline and the tenacity to get it executed within stipulated time lines at the ground level,” Sunil Arora, currently Chief Election Commissioner, nostalgically recalls his association with Brara during his tenure as Chairman of Indian Airlines between 2000 and 2005: “He was a part of the informal think tank which took key policy and operational decisions in all critical aspects of running Indian Airlines as well as ideating on its future plans, especially with a view to enhancing its international outreach.” So strong was Brara’s passion for aviation that after retiring from Air India in 2013 he became a consultant for InterGlobe where he was the Head- Education and Special Projects at InterGlobe Education and also became a consultant for Star Alliance.

Calling Brara a “matter-of-fact person but always professional and courteous”, Jeffrey Goh, Chief Executive Officer, Star Alliance, says he never faltered in his belief even when Star Alliance mulled over whether to have Air India on board. “Deepak was instrumental in the integration of Air India into Star Alliance. He believed in the proposition of a global airline alliance of which he knew Air India should be a part,” Goh says, adding Brara worked on persuading his peers but also very quickly learnt the intricacies of international airline diplomacy and partnerships. “The day the integration was completed, you would have struggled to measure the width of his smile,” Goh recalls.

Ready to experiment

Rohit Nandan, who was chairman, Air India, when Brara retired, calls Brara a free thinker not bound by doctrines. Nandan says he was ready to experiment and try out new things. “His originality came out in full splendour during the prolonged pilots’ strike in 2012 when he imaginatively devised an alternative network of operations that worked wonderfully and led to operational profits during those dark days,” he says.

“During the last eight years I developed a very close bond with him, especially during the last four years after I ceased to be CMD. We met over dinner or lunch every month after I demitted office. During our meetings, we discussed a wide variety of subjects and Air India was never a part of those. We came to know each other as human beings and joked and laughed a lot as friends, not as officers,” adds Nandan.

Clearly a person like Brara will be difficult to find. Nandan probably sums up the feelings of many of Brara’s admirers and well-wishers when he says, “To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

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Published on January 07, 2020
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