Jose Thomas

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GROUNDED
Wednesday 16th March, 2011



     

 

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Very quickly a year passed by, chasing the approval with the Civil Aviation Ministry. By now,
I started to develop cold feet and my partners in Denmark were concerned about the delays in obtaining the permission. They began to get frustrated not only about launching an Airline in India, but also the future hurdles that they may have to encounter.  Even though, I too had faced enough and more challenges in my lifetime…but, this project was not going my way.  Yet, in spite of all these issues, I was very confident of getting the clearance and seeing ‘Choice Air’ in the sky.
‘My Dream’

By this time I almost became a Delhiite and picked up a little Hindi skills as well. I got to meet many top officials, politicians, bureaucrats, religious heads, even Swamiji’s. In Delhi, and all I saw was Money and Power. I didn’t have the necessary power for the Delhi circuit as I hailed from this little state- Kerala; we had only 16 Members of Parliament representing the State, all of whom had promised to support my project, as it was a Kerala venture.  However, due to lack of strength, their voices were never heard and couldn’t make any impact in the 500 odd member Parliament of India, who was responsible for framing the policies of the country.  I was in disarray, losing my ground, meeting everyone I could, seeking help.  It continued….I treated every stranger as a potential individual who knew someone who could help in getting my licenses. ‘Losing Ground’

Taj Palace, the hotel I was staying at, was fully booked on account of Choice Air – political friends and even business associates from different parts of the country, promising their help, and not forgetting the pilots and senior staff.  Every morning I woke up with new hopes and changed strategies.  My dearest political friend from Kerala, the then Chief Minister, Late Mr. K. Karunakaran, did his best in helping me obtain my licenses but I was getting nowhere, as there never any positive signs from the license issuing authority.  It all turned out to be ‘Empty Promises’.

By this time other Private Operators had already established a strong base within the country and started to operate their services.  In fact, I used to fly these private airlines on my trips and each time I got on board these new airlines, I used to imagine that I was on board my dream Airline ‘Choice Air’…. ‘Hopes and Dreams!’

It was just hope that kept me going.  I made detours, stopped visiting the Civil Aviation Ministry and started to go and meet with influential people in Delhi and all of them readily promised help.  In the meantime, I had spent tons of money on the pre-operative costs, especially with regard to recruitment, training and preparing for the IPO to raise funds.  Since the capital requirement of starting an airline was Rs 30 crores, we had to raise our capital and all this simply meant drain on cash reserves. ‘Cash Crunch’

While I was extremely busy, running in the Delhi heat between  North Block, South Block and homes of VIP’s and VVIP’s, that too at odd hours, I had lost track of what was going on back home with my existing businesses.  Even today, I have a good feel the way my businesses run and operate (a special God given skill). When something goes wrong, I get the feel that sets alarms ringing in my mind, especially when cash flows take a negative turn. I get the feel.  ‘The Feel Factor’.

My head office in Cochin started to delay remittances to my Delhi account for meeting our expenses in a timely manner.  Even though I was confident of my strong financial base back home,
I did not keep a track of the money that we had spent so far.  Our Finance Controller had the special skills of convincing banks and financial institutions and could walk away with any amount of money in loans because Choice had the necessary financial strength to borrow – he simply kept borrowing.
When I felt the crunch for funds, I started to worry, but never panicked. I was very confident that everything would turn around. ‘Self Confidence’

No one in my team (including my senior pilots) knew what was going on.  They knew I was on top of things, dealing with the license issue. Besides this, everyone was aware that I was faced with the difficult task of getting the airline off the ground. In spite of all these challenges, every one continued doing their job, recruiting flying crew, training, preparing safety manuals and so on.
The burden of this project began to impact our targets and my morale.  By this time, I had the opportunity to meet with the honorable Minister of Civil Aviation on various occasions, who, as usual, was very positive. I was told that he was waiting for the general policy clearance from the government and the cabinet for clearing additional wide bodied aircraft licenses.  I never gave up hope and continued to take my team along with me and tried the very best in keeping everyone motivated – ‘Leadership’

Every time I returned to Cochin (a little town at that time), everyone, including my family and of course, the local press were anxious to know what was going on. I slowly began to feel the resource crunch.  I could also see that my finance department at the Head Office was concerned the way money was being spent and sent me warning signals.  However, I convinced them that it was all going to change.  ‘Confidence and Guts’.

One morning I landed in Mumbai, checked into the Leela Kempinski, which was one of the best hotels, near the International Airport.  I personally knew the owner of the hotel and in fact, we even discussed hosting our crew to stay here.  While I was at this hotel, as expected, many aspiring pilots and job seekers met me and gave me all the encouragement.  Euphoria ‘Choice Air’.

That evening I was scheduled to go to Copenhagen to meet with my partners.  I was booked on a flight departing Bombay at 1am and was preparing to leave for the airport.  Just before vacating my room, I switched on the TV.  Those days, only Doordarshan was telecasting programs, especially, the news.  India didn’t have the comfort of multiple channels that we have today.  As the TV came on, the news in Hindi was being broadcast and I saw the headlines which I could barely understand. But I figured that it was something about the government policy on Civil Aviation.  The News was….
The government decides not to permit any more new operators in the Indian skies’.

I was lost…my ‘dreams’ shattered…‘hopes’ down the drain… blood rushed through my body… sweating… totally in the dark…what next?

Choice Air was Grounded.

Stay tuned for more on the 26th!!

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Responses to
 Aneesh says:
Sir, With the experience...why dont you start a avaition company where you can tap the tourism area in kerala itself...which will have a good boost to the tourism within kerala and i would suggest you can start dreaming again... best wishes sir... i think with the helicopter services between the tourist spots or atleast 2-3 kms away of the spots you can have a helipad and explore.... I dont know how much that i wrote above will work but if u think about it i will be greatful.... best wishes.... Regards Aneesh
 
 Teny says:
Dear Jose, With airline industry dogged with too many unprecedented problems , I believe you'll never regret the decision of quitting the airline business. See the debt in the books of KF, Jet etc. will they ever be able to create long term wealth ? So I think that was a blessing in disguise. All the bets for your exisitng endeavours ! Teny
 
 Molly Cyril says:
Very well expressed. A lot to learn especially with reading between the lines!Waiting for the sequel....
 
 Stanly says:
Policies are framed for some who are influential and without keeping a counter power we cannot win.
 
 Balasubramanian says:
It pains when your dream get shattered
 
 leena thomas says:
hope u have somthng positive to tell us on 26th....
 
 Suresh Kumar says:
Dear Jose, I always dreamed about having an airline of my own :) (imagine dreaming about it minus the money). I knew for certain that I could run the best low cost airlines in the world. I am glad I did not have the money or I would have lost it too. But there is always a next time. I am sure that you should be able to do it this time. Take care Suresh
 
 john says:
the typical indiain climate. I wonder if anything changed since those days. Although some survive, I think India is still a nightmare for entrepreneurs. I tried to register a company in India end of Jan 2011 and I am still in the process, where as I registered a same type of company in the US 2 years ago just in 5 minutes.
 
 Kuruvilla says:
Awaiting the final installation in the post...
 
 indra kumaf says:
jT i am ipreesd and you are real elebraity, and I learn lot from your experiances..