Soon after Nishant Pitti, CEO and co-founder of EaseMyTrip, launched the travel site, the company was bleeding. A budget airline, SpiceJet, extended a lifeline to the company by tying up for exclusive deals, and helped the company pull itself out at the critical moment.

So when Pitti saw an opportunity in the bids for the bankrupt carrier Go First and wanted to throw his hat in the ring, he obviously chose to partner the promoter of the airline that bailed him out, Ajay Singh.

"EaseMyTrip was established as an online travel agency with a B2B (business-to-business) model. Initially, we were operating out of a garage and lost almost all our money in the first three months. Soon, we were approached by an airline to become their travel partners, and since then, there has been no looking back," Pitti told Moneycontrol.

EaseMyTrip's Pitti and SpiceJet's Singh came together and bid for Go First. They had closely monitored the increase in air travel demand and as industry players knew the trend would continue and the demand-supply gap may widen.

While SpiceJet itself has been facing a cash crunch for the past several quarters, promoter Singh is an aviation veteran. Pitti, on the other hand, believes in taking risks and diversifying into areas that he is passionate about. His love for cinema translated into Pitti producing movies; aviation seemed like a natural progression of his travel business.

The big bet

Pitti said that the bid for Go First was a “strategic move”.

"Air travel is increasing significantly, and there is a demand-supply gap that could intensify in the future. At this stage, the airport infrastructure needs support to improve so that we can cater to the rising demand,” he said.

Singh and Pitti, who is also the promoter of Bus Bee Airways, a company incorporated in 2017, had jointly submitted a bid of Rs 1,600 crore for Go First, which began life as GoAir, in March.

The bids opened in February for Go First, which has been grounded for almost a year now after entering voluntary bankruptcy on May 2, 2023, a first in Indian aviation.

“Seeing an Indian airline on the verge of bankruptcy that needed support, I wanted to step in and contribute to reviving the company in my capacity; hence, I placed a bid," Pitti said.

In March, the Singh-Pitti duo are known to have increased their bid for Go First to around Rs 1,800 crore from their initial bid of Rs 1,600 crore, according to a Moneycontrolreport. The consortium has also proposed to increase its upfront payment to around Rs 500 crore, from around Rs 290 crore earlier, and has offered to pay off financial creditors from the proceeds of the arbitration award against engine supplier Pratt & Whitney (P&W), the report added.

While Pitti did not share any further information on the deal, he said that he is hoping to see the carrier’s flights rule the skies soon.

Opportunities and challenges

The Indian aviation industry has been facing supply chain challenges and issues of engine failures with P&W power plants supplied to various airlines, said brokerage firm ICRA, adding that aviation giant Boeing is also grappling with issues related to its 737 Max aircraft. Ticket prices are skyrocketing because of capacity constraints, noted travel platforms and agents.

In March alone, more than 2 lakh passengers were affected by flight delays while cancellations impacted 23,675 passengers, according to Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) data.

While experts say that supply chain-related challenges are here to stay for another two quarters, demand for air travel is only increasing.

Domestic airlines carried 133.68 lakh passengers in March, an increase of nearly 3.7 per cent on an annual basis, according to official data released on April 15.

"Today, the Indian tourism sector is counted among the fastest-growing economic markets across the world. It is growing rapidly and is projected to reach $15 billion by FY27. The airport and railway infrastructure are improving, the hospitality industry is undergoing significant transformations, and collaborative efforts are being made to attract foreign tourists to India,” Pitti said. “We foresee immense growth in domestic travel and inbound tourism."

He added that India is well positioned on the global tourism map. "The country takes pride in its rich geographical diversity, world heritage sites, captivating destinations, and niche offerings, including cruise, medical, eco-tourism, and much more. These reasons, coupled with increasing disposable incomes, pent-up demand, and trends like staycation, workcation, bleisure, etc., fuel the industry’s growth and will be pivotal in shaping its promising future," he said.

He added that air travel in India is increasing significantly, and there is a demand-supply gap that could intensify in the future.

"At this stage, the airport infrastructure needs support to improve so that we can cater to the rising demand," Pitti said.

A Bollywood fan

Pitti is a fan who wants to be a Bollywood insider. His last film venture was Taish and he is now scouting for “intriguing scripts” and “exciting project ideas”.

"I am a die-hard fan of Bollywood movies and always had the desire to contribute to the entertainment field in my own way. In 2014, I finally got an opportunity to venture into the field of film production as I became the producer of Mumbai 125 KM,” he said.

He went on to produce movies like Madaari and Fanney Khan and co-produced several others, including Guest in London, Batti Gul Meter Chalu, Manikarnika, and Freaky Ali.

But movie-making is not just a creative pursuit for Pitti.

"The entertainment sector is a lucrative field and gives good ROI (return on investment). Adorning the role of a film producer was one of the marketing initiatives to boost brand recognition which was much needed,” he said.

This may seem like a leaf out of the book of another aviation veteran, Richard Branson, who diversified into different businesses that gave his Virgin brand visibility.

“At that time, companies were either promoting their products and services through placements in movies or participating in internal and external promotional campaigns. I wanted to adopt an unconventional route, and this is how my journey as a film producer began," he said.

2024-04-16T11:07:07Z dg43tfdfdgfd