Sanjay Mandavia is among the few pilots who later became entrepreneurs. Now he has a rarer opportunity of becoming the pilot-owner of an airline
What’s common between CE Woolman, Walter Varney and Alexis Felix du Pont Jr? They were all pilots who later founded or owned airlines. And now, Sanjay Mandavia may join this list. Founder of Flight Simulation Technique Centre (FSTC), claimed to be the country’s first standalone pilot training institute approved by regulators in India and Europe, Mandavia is in the race for Jet Airways.
There may be a slight difference; Woolman with Delta Air Lines, Varney with Continental and United Airlines, and du Pont Jr with what eventually became US Airways, were legendary founders or co-founders of these carriers and played a significant role in their growth. Mandavia has a similar opportunity in hand to grow an airline, although it may be equally challenging.
The FSTC founder, who has over 11,000 hours of flying, has formed a consortium with Imperial Capital Investments - an investment banking and wealth management provider based in Dubai - and Big Charter, which is owned by the Mandavia family.
There is another trivia that underlines Mandavia's unique position. He was also a captain with Jet Airways, before joining Kingfisher Airlines, where he was the DGCA-approved check pilot on the Airbus 330. Later in 2012, he founded FSTC, which has two training centres in Gurugram and Hyderabad and claims to have trained over 1,000 pilots in last eight years.
FSTC's Board includes DS Basraon, who was a senior commander with Kingfisher Airline and Vistara, and serial entrepreneur Ajay Relan.
If he does win the race for Jet Airways, Mandavia will be among the very few pilots in the aviation world, who went on to own an airline.
"Sanjay was always very entrepreneurial," said a senior industry executive who has worked with the FSTC founder. "Few pilots venture into management, and fewer start a company. This experience will come handy for him if he is successful with Jet Airways," added the executive, who didn't want to be named.
The entrepreneurship has helped Mandavia, who had also announced plans to launch a regional airline FlyBig earlier this year, understand how the industry works. "One needs the experience to understand how the Indian bureaucracy works. Otherwise, getting a license to operate an airline can be a long exercise!" said another retired senior executive from the industry.
That would be a handy skill when it comes to turning around Jet Airways. The airline last operated in April 2019, and its license, despite being 'current,' is at present suspended. Apart from getting the license back, the new owner will also need to work with the government to release airport slots that the airline earlier owned and have since been distributed among other carriers.
Mandavia declined to comment for the story.
Sources, however, told Moneycontrol that the aviator-cum-entrepreneur is set to present a resolution plan for Jet Airways before the deadline of July 21.
Jet Airways's road - or runway - to revival has been long and unending. And delayed so often that few gave it a chance to fly again. In fact, not one suitor came close to even presenting a resolution plan.
But that suddenly changed in May this year, when nearly a dozen interested parties came forward after the resolution professional overseeing the insolvency process floated a fresh Expression of Interest.
The resolution professional later shortlisted the list of suitors to final four, who now have to submit the resolution plans that will be presented to the banks. Lenders, led by State Bank of India, have an exposure of over Rs 8,000 crore to Jet Airways. Overall, claims of about Rs 30,000 crore have been made on the airline.
Apart from the Sanjay Mandavia-led consortium, the other three contenders are:
1. Consortium of Kalrock Capital Partners, a UK-based financial services firm, and entrepreneur Murari Lal Jalan
2. Alpha Airways, which advisory firm CAPA says is based in Kyrgyzstan. A Google search doesn't throw up any website.
3. Sivakumar Rasiah, a Canadian investor that few know of in the aviation sector
Sources close to the FSTC founder said Mandavia's plan is to operate both Jet Airways and FlyBig.
"COVID-19, despite the devastation it has caused, has also brought about an opportunity in the aviation sector," said an executive.
According to him, Mandavia will serve the metro routes with Jet Airways, which will be fed by the regional flights operated by FlyBig. Sources added that the regional airline's license has been delayed because of COVID-19, but "is in the works." An official said: "It is in line to operate flights in some of the regional routes, including those connecting the North-East."
Not surprisingly, while Mandavia will want to revive the Jet Airways brand, he may not look to scale its operations to what the airline used to have before April 2019. Jet Airways had a fleet of about 120 aircraft.
"Sanjay believes in operating a single-aircraft fleet. He likes the model IndiGo used to have before it got in the ATRs. US carrier Southwest Airlines, which mostly has Boeing 737, is another company he admires," said one of the senior executives quoted above.
Among the most critical parts of turning around Jet Airways would be the financial part. Apart from taking on the huge debt mountain that the airline has, a new owner may also need to put in capital to restart operations. While the lenders may agree to a haircut in loan repayment, Mandavia will have to use the offices of Imperial Capital to raise funds.
Little is know about FSTC's financial numbers, as it is privately held. Mandavia's charter business has been in the back burner for a while, point out industry executives.Sources, however, added that Mandavia has brought in Deloitte and law firm Luthra & Luthra to advise him on Jet Airways. While these names will provide heft and resources to Mandavia, the aviator-entrepreneur will also bank heavily on his experience to win Jet Airway.