Indian stock market investor, trader, billionaire, and the promoter of the newest airline Akasa Air, Rakesh Jhunjhunwala passed away on Sunday. Aged 62 years, the ace trader suffered a cardiac arrest.
Known as the ‘Big Bull of Dalal Street’, Jhunjhunwala was last seen at the launch event of Akasa Air’s maiden flight between Mumbai and Ahmedabad on August 7. Notably, Jhunjhunwala was the promoter of Akasa Air and launched the airline at a time when the domestic aviation sector is grappling with low demand and high fuel prices.
Akasa Air is registered as SNV Aviation and received a no objection certificate in October last year.
Jhunjhunwala had infused $200 million into the airline for a 46 per cent stake. His sudden demise comes as a shock to Akasa Air, which was looking forward to growing and excelling under Jhunjhunwala’s wings.
Mourning the stock market maverick’s death, Vinay Dube, the founder, and CEO of Akasa Air thanked Jhunjhunwala for being an early believer and putting his trust and faith in the airline. Dube said, “We are deeply saddened by the untimely demise of Mr. Rakesh Jhunjhunwala this morning. Our thoughts and prayers are with Mr. Jhunjhunwala’s family and friends. May his soul rest in peace.
“We at Akasa cannot thank Mr. Jhunjhunwala enough for being an early believer in us and putting his trust and faith in us to build a world-class airline. Mr. Jhunjhunwala had an invincible spirit, was deeply passionate about everything Indian, and cared greatly for the well-being of our employees and customers. Akasa Air will honor Mr. Jhunjhunwala’s legacy, values, and belief in us by striving to run a great airline.” Dube said.
Jhunjhunwala’s Plan For Akasa Air
Apart from extensive investment, Jhunjhunwala had a carefully crafted plan for the airline, as he partnered with top aviation industry leaders for the airline’s management. For example, he roped in Dube as the CEO of the airline who has previously served as the CEO of Jet Airways and Go First. Dube owns a 31 per cent stake in the airline. He also roped in Aditya Ghosh, who previously served as the director of IndiGo for a decade until 2018. Ghosh reportedly owns a 10 per cent stake in the airline.
Notably, in order to survive the talent war in the aviation industry, Jhunjhunwala’s Akasa Air has been planning to offer stock options to retain and lure employees. “The degree to which Akasa plans to grant stock options for staff will be far greater than most airlines in India and hopefully reminiscent of maybe some of the tech startups where they go fairly deep in the way they provide employee stock ownership plans,” Dube had earlier said. The airline has currently hired 154 pilots, 115 cabin attendants, and 14 engineers, as per reports.
Akasa Air’s entry into a highly competitive domestic aviation sector comes at a time when other airlines such as SpiceJet, Air India, and IndiGo, are under tight scrutiny from DGCA owing to technical issues in the airlines’ fleet. Hence, Akasa Air is expecting to have a fleet of 72 jets in the next five years and is expecting the delivery of 18 planes by March next year. Moreover, focusing on Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities at an affordable price range, the airline will also start operations between Bengaluru and Kochi route on August 13, between Bengaluru to Ahmedabad route on August 23, between Bengaluru and Mumbai route on August 30 and between Mumbai and Chennai route on September 15.
Notably, in India, billionaire-owned airlines have a history of running into losses. Be it Vijay Mallya-owned Kingfisher airlines or Subrata Roy Sahara-owned Sahara airlines, all had the same story. This is why many analysts were apprehensive regarding the future of Akasa Air, even before it started operations. Jhunjhunwala, who was known for his grit, in February had said that he was prepared for failure. “I am prepared for failure. I am surprised that people are surprised (by my investment),” Jhunjhunwala said while speaking at a Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) in February this year.
Now, with the sudden demise of Jhunjhunwala, the future and legacy of Akasa Air remain uncertain. It will be worth witnessing how the airline performs without its patriarch’s guidance.