Naresh Goyal, the founder, chairman and chief executive officer of Jet Airways, is just elated that after more than two years of trying to enter the US market that was inhibited by one controversy or another, his airline will be the first private Indian carrier to establish a beachhead in the US, when it makes its debut flying into Newark International from Mumbai via Brussels on August 5.
Everything from allegations of a trademark infringement by a company with a similar name based in Bethesda, Maryland to allegations of an opaque ownership structure to alleged links to organised crime in India and overseas - which Goyal has asserted were "absolutely baseless," had prevented Jet Airways from flying to Newark in June 2005 as originally scheduled.
But ultimately, the Department of Transportation concluded that these alleged trademark infringements and rumors of underworld links were no reason to prevent Jet Airways from tapping into the US market, and catalysed by the Open Skies Agreement between the US and India, gave this leading domestic Indian carrier the green light to make its international foray beyond Europe and across the Atlantic.
In an exclusive interview with rediff.com on the margins of the 32nd Anniversary Summit of the US-India Business Council, where he was one of the honoured guests, Goyal expressed confidence that Jet Airways would be a force to be reckoned with and would revel in the competition to grab a share of the massive traffic between the US and India of the several thousand Indian Americans and other Americans visiting India for tourism and business.
"Competition is always very good. We are all born on competition," he said, and predicted that "the other airlines will be concerned about Jet Airways."
Virtually challenging the American and Asian carriers plying back and forth from the US and India, Goyal said, "Jet Airways product will be the best in the industry where not only our Indians will be proud, but all our customers traveling will be proud that an Indian carrier, created by Indians can match with the best the world has to offer."
He also spoke of Jet Airways' unprecedented $3.7 billion expansion, acquiring a fleet of wide-bodied Boeing 777 and 787 Dreamliner aircraft and Airbus A 330 aircraft to facilitate the envisaged and growing market of US-India travel traffic and acknowledged Jet's close association with Boeing, which has provided more than 80 per cent of the aircraft in his company's inventory.
When Jet Airways started in 1993, it had a fleet of four Boeing 737-300 aircraft. Today Jet Airways and its subsidiary JetLite have a fleet of 87 aircraft, serving 48 cities in India and six international routes, soon to become seventh come next month, when Goyal's aircraft starts making the US run.
In the interview, Goyal said, "We have had these plans for the last two years and as we all know, for India, the United States is the biggest market - both the economies have been growing exponentially as we've been hearing all day at this USIBC conference."
"And, then there are more than two million Indian Americans, and there may be also several thousand reverse citizens, some of them still holding Indian passports, PIOs (Persons of Indian Origin), and all of them doing very well and so there is a lot of travel traffic, and in addition, there are also Americans traveling to India in large numbers in recent years, and business and trade is increasing. So, you can see why the US has always been the most important market we've been wanting to get into, followed by London and other markets," he said.
Asked what he believed has been the prime driving force behind the success of Jet Airways, which is India's premier airline, Goyal said, "I firmly believe it is the commitment of our people - the team-work, the training and the sense of pride by our team that it is their company. Our people are passionate about their company and they all know that whatever commitments Jet Airways has made, has been implemented and delivered."
"Our employees, our customers, to whom we have delivered, has led to a lot of satisfaction and a sense of immense appreciation. As you know, we've been flying to London - we are already the first choice - so the United States is now going to become a major, major market for us and we are once again counting on being the first choice," he added.Goyal expressed confidence that Jet Airways' growth in the next five to six years would be on an upward trajectory, whatever the market fluctuations, saying, "Jet Airways has always made money in the last 14 years when everybody lost money. Even our last quarter results were profitable and Jet Airways was the only airline that made money.