Interview: Willie Walsh

Written by Shaheen Mansuri | Updated: Sep 6 2010, 05:41am hrs
British Airways global CEO Willie Walsh finds India to be one of the fastest growing aviation markets in the world. Walsh, who was in Mumbai on Friday to announce a code-share agreement with Kingfisher Airlines, says that despite the airline facing mounting competition from other international carriers operating in India, he is not worried as India has huge growth potential and each player can have a decent pie of the expanding market. On the flip side, he tells FEs Shaheen Mansuri that though the future of the aviation industry is consolidation and many foreign carriers want to invest in India, Indian law does not permit them to do so. Excerpts:

What advantages will both carriers have from the code-share arrangement

We will start code-sharing on each others flights across India, Sri Lanka, the UK and continental Europe from September 15. This follows Kingfisher Airlines' acceptance of an invitation to join the Oneworld Alliance earlier this year.

Through this agreement, British Airways code will be placed on 11 domestic Indian routes and one route to Sri Lanka operated by Kingfisher Airlines, while Kingfisher Airline's code will be placed on nine British Airways routes from Heathrow to the UK regions and continental Europe.

The airlines customers will be able to book their whole journey on each others websites, earn frequent flier points on the code-share routes and gain access to each others' support lounges. Code-sharing is very much around, giving more choices to the customer. I have always seen code-sharing as a move around generating more traffic, more customers and more revenue and it works very well.

How important is the Indian market to you

India is the second largest market for us after the US. In fact, after the recession, India was among the fastest regions to recover from the downfall. We are operating in and out of India for the past several decades and will continue to do so in a consolidated fashion.

We have a huge customer base here and we still find growth opportunities in the region. Though I can't divulge revenue details from India, I have always said that India will be one of the biggest aviation markets in the future and clearly, we want to have a very strong presence in this market.

We have got a long and very successful history of serving India internationally and that is what we want to continue to do.

Given an opportunity, will international carriers like British Airways invest in India

Many international airlines would be keen to invest in Indian airlines. Today, foreign airlines cannot invest into Indian airlines because of the law. India is a market for the future and many international airlines would look forward to invest in India, if the laws were changed. British Airways recently signed a merger deal with Spanish airlines Iberia.

The ambition of this international airline group, which would be formed early next year, would be to invest in airlines. Consolidation is the future of the industry.

Despite having a strong presence in India, aren't other global carriers, specifically from West Asia, a threat to your existence in the country

Carriers like Emirates have been competitors to us in India. Even other carriers like Etihad and Qatar are doing good here. Facing competition is not something new to us.

India has a growth story, and each one can have a slice of the growing market. We have introduced B777-300ER aircraft in our fleet, which will regularly fly to Mumbai, Delhi, Dubai and Chicago.

It is also the greenest in our long haul, generating 15% less carbon emission per seat than the B777-200. The state-of-the art aircraft showcases the future face of British Airways.

Sluggish airport infrastructure development is an issue that has to be dealt with in India. Comments

There are capacity constraints at Indian airports, but at the same time, there are huge investments lined up for airport related infrastructure. I am sure, once the projects are complete, it will boost air traffic and capacity constraints will be a thing of the past. However, airport infrastructure issues are not confined to Indian airports alone. The world over, airlines are grappling with the issue.