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Vijay Bhatia’s Bird Group is a veteran in the aviation business

LiveMint logoLiveMint 30-08-2017 Amrit Raj

New Delhi: Bird Group, which on Wednesday expressed interest in bidding for the ground handling subsidiary of Air India, started as a general sales agent (GSA) for the German airline Deutsche Lufthansa AG in 1971.

The story of the group’s founder Vijay Bhatia is identical to that of a host of New Delhi-based first generation entrepreneurs such as Qimat Rai Gupta of Havells India Ltd or Vivek Chaand Sehgal of Motherson Sumi Systems Ltd, who started off in the 1970s as small businessmen seeking to tap opportunities that sought to redefine India in the economy’s formative years.

Though Bhatia may not have grown as much as Gupta (Motherson is India’s biggest auto components maker) or Sehgal (Havells is one of India’s largest makers of electrical products), he has displayed the same perseverance and entrepreneurial spirit and striven as hard to ensure constant growth in a very niche business area.

In 1987, four European airlines—Lufthansa, Air France, Scandinavian and Iberia—joined hands to set up Amadeus, which was a computerised reservation system that merged the airlines’ existing reservation systems to create the largest European Global Distribution System (GDS).

In the pre-internet era, this system was to change the way airline bookings took place. This also proved to be a turning point for Bird Group.

In 1994, Bird Group brought Amadeus to India, with the objective of providing information technology (IT) and software services, developing software products and automated tools for the travel trade.

The technology, essentially, is a web-based, user-friendly solution for airline ticket booking.

Today, Amadeus India claims to be the leading provider of information technology solutions to the travel trade in India, with over 50% market share.

The group has also diversified into aviation services such as ground handling at airports in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mumbai, Goa, Gaya, Ahmedabad and Kochi.

It runs a business lounge in Bangalore and has started an MRO (maintenance, repair and operations) centre at Delhi airport.

Bird also provides infrastructure for private jet operators at Delhi Airport, owns BMW showrooms and runs five hotels—two in Delhi and three in the UK.

As for the bid for Air India Air Transport Services Ltd (AIATSL), it could offer potential, but the Bhatias are yet to assess it.

“We have no idea about the opportunity. In this business, the real value is number of turns you do. I have no idea about yields,” a person aware of Bird’s plans said on condition of anonymity.

Turns refer to the arrivals and departures that an airline makes to and from a particular airport.

“For entire AI operations, they handle 150 turns and they have significant customer base, which makes them the largest to do so,” the person added.

To be sure, with five large ground handling companies operating, it makes for tough competition.

“A consolidation in the sector is due,” the person added.

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