IndiGo appoints Dutta as principal consultant to put up a five year business plan

Published: Thursday, December 13, 2018

Low-fare carrier IndiGo has appointed global aviation veteran Ronojoy Dutta as principal consultant to put together a five-year business plan for India’s biggest airline that controls more than 40% of the domestic market.

Dutta, who will report to co-founder Rahul Bhatia, is a top contender to subsequently head the airline, one of the fastest growing in the world, two people close to the matter separately told ET.

ET broke the news online, before IndiGo formally announced Dutta’s appointment. The airline didn’t elaborate whether Dutta would later lead the carrier. When asked, Bhatia stuck to the company’s official stance and didn’t expound on Dutta’s future role.

Bhatia is currently IndiGo’s interim CEO. He took charge after Aditya Ghosh quit as president earlier this year. Senior adviser Gregory Taylor had been slated to take up that position, according to the people cited above.

Dutta was with United Airlines for 17 years and remained its president between 1999 and 2002. He was once a colleague of IndiGo co-founder Rakesh Gangwal, who was with the airline between 1984 and 1994, before moving to US Airways, where Dutta later became a strategic adviser and member of the board. Dutta headed Air Sahara from 2004 to 2006 and quit just before its takeover by Jet Airways.

Dutta and Gangwal were at one time heading rival carriers, United Airlines and US Airways — two Indians at the forefront of the American aviation industry. Legend has it that Gangwal was the first to call Dutta after his promotion as the head of United Airlines.

Dutta is a graduate from the IIT Kharagpur while Gangwal graduated from IIT Kanpur. Dutta received his management degree from Harvard Business School while Gangwal got his from Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania.

Dutta has been a strategic adviser for several airlines, such as Air Canada and Hawaiian Airlines. He has also advised financial institutions such as Cerberus, Greenbriar, Houlihan Lokey and aviation consultancy AAR Corp.

He joins IndiGo at a time the airline is on an aggressive expansion spree. IndiGo has a fleet of about 200 planes and more than 350 already ordered are waiting to be delivered. It had a market capitalisation of Rs 38,300 crore as of close of trade on Tuesday, more than the M-cap of several of its rivals combined.

But the airline also plunged to its first net loss of Rs 652 crore (more than Rs 1,000 crore when not padded by tax credits and income from fixed deposits) for the July-September quarter from a net profit of Rs 551 crore a year earlier. IndiGo’s per-seat revenue has been falling and comfortable cash reserves are deflating.

The carrier, like its peers, has been hit by rising fuel prices and the falling rupee, but also, as many say, by its self-created problems of overcapacity.

Ghosh left the airline in April. His exit was marked by disagreements with the management over policy issues, including the airline’s expansion plans.

Dutta’s appointment is also the latest in IndiGo’s efforts to rope in global or expatriate talent as it looks to expand operations to the West in the form of low-cost, long-haul flights. Many have warned that in its global ambitions, the airline shouldn’t lose the plot in the local market.

Apart from Taylor, also a United veteran, there were other appointments such as Willy Boulter in the position of chief strategy officer, Michael Swiatek as chief planning officer and Wolfgang Prock-Schauer as chief operating officer. Rohit Philip — one of the first such appointments — has joined as chief financial officer.