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British entrepreneur offers to take control of Jet Airways

The founder of Atmosphere Intercontinental Airlines has written to Jet Airways CEO Vinay Dube.

April 23, 2019 / 09:42 PM IST

Interest to revive Jet Airways has now come from the unlikeliest of places.

An unknown British entrepreneur has written to Jet Airways CEO Vinay Dube, 'resubmitting' his interest to take a controlling share in the distressed airline.

Jason Unsworth had earlier written to Jet's lenders, but the banks haven't responded to him yet.

"I have got a reply from Dube. He has put me in touch with a senior Jet Airways official for updates," said Unsworth, whose startup Atmosphere Intercontinental Airlines was set up in 2015, and has been trying to start services from London Stansted Airport.

Unsworth's interest is the first bit of good news in days for Jet's  stakeholders, especially its employees. The airline suspended its operations on April 17, and even its bidding process may be in jeopardy with suitors losing interest.

Close

The airline has lost important slots, aircraft and cream of its talent, and this may put the bids in trouble. The lenders had shortlisted Etihad Airways, TPG Capital, Indigo Partners and NIIF. The last day to submit bids is May 10.

The suspension of operations had put in question the future of airline's over 20,000 employees that it employed directly and indirectly.

"I want to see the staff get their salaries and I want to resume the operations before it loses more of its assets, including the slots," Unsworth told Moneycontrol over a call from Bangkok.

"Other airlines have poached talent from Jet, and it is important to start operations as soon as possible before the value erodes," said Unsworth. He added that the Indian unit of Atmosphere Airlines has got "hundreds of applications from Jet Airways employees looking for jobs."

New interest

While those words will gladden the troubled Jet Airways employees, it remains to be seen how seriously the airline, or its lenders, would take the offer from Unsworth.

The entrepreneur has worked in several airlines as crew member and as a part of the ground staff, but doesn't have experience in running an airline.

While he assures that Atmosphere Intercontinental Airlines has a team in place, much of the senior management  - as shown in the company website - is made up of family members. The website invites applicants for its board, and senior positions at its India, UK, Dubai and Thailand operations.

The airline has plans to start flights to Bangkok, Dubai and India.

The startup founder & CEO said he is aware of the liabilities that Jet faces, but has a plan to overcome these. "we have several investors who are interested in Atmosphere, and they have also shown interest in Jet Airways," he said. But Unsworth declined to give more information.

It is unclear thus, if he or the company fulfils guidelines set down by Jet Airways lenders to qualify as a bidder. A strategic investor needed a net worth of Rs 1,000 crore and funds of Rs 1,000 crore, separately.

But Unsworth sounds confident and says he has stitched up several partnerships at different levels, and these will come handy in reviving Jet Airways.

While hoping that the banks respond to his interest in Jet, Unsworth said he would want to build on the Indian airline's overseas operations. "I would like to resume Jet Airways wide body, long haul flights. We would look at resuming operations at London's Heathrow Airport, revive the Manchester connection and also look at new routes," he said.

Etihad Airways has taken back the slots in Heathrow that it had leased to Jet  Airways.

Unsworth is positive that despite the challenges in the sector, there is opportunity for a full service carrier, compared to a low cost ones. "The premium model will revive in the long run. Of late, many of the long haul low cost airlines have closed down. On the other hand, I believe people want a premium product with entertainment and refreshments...the ticket pricing has to be right."

A member of the Conservative party, Unsworth has written to British Prime Minister Theresa May, asking for support in his interest in Jet. He has also written to the office of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Prince Mathews Thomas heads the corporate bureau of Moneycontrol. He has been covering the business world for 16 years, having worked in The Hindu Business Line, Forbes India, Dow Jones Newswires, The Economic Times, Business Standard and The Week. A Chevening scholar, Prince has also authored The Consolidators, a book on second generation entrepreneurs.
first published: Apr 23, 2019 04:14 pm

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