Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Tata’s new airline: finding the sweet spot of convergence

Cheating Geography

Singapore is a nation that was dealt a poor hand by nature but one, which has through vision and sheer determination cheated its geography repeatedly.

Take the land reclamation project as an example, which has increased Singapore’s land area nearly 10% since 1960 & will eventually by 2030, grow it a whopping 26%, more than 1/4th its original size. Singapore’s Changi Airport is almost entirely built on reclaimed land or land that was previously swampy. Or take fresh water supply- from being almost totally dependent on Malaysia for its fresh water supply in the 1960’s, Singapore is now not just self-sufficient, it has become a global water research and technology hub with active support from the government.

Not to be ignored is the example of Singapore’s Changi Airport- a predominant hub in South East Asia that handled a little over 53 million passengers in 2013. It was & is disadvantaged in no smaller measure than being a 2 hour flight diversion to the South if one were to fly from Australia to Europe. Not being directly en-route the popularly named route “kangaroo-Hop” was a major disadvantage to Singapore and a big plus for Bangkok, which, aside from being in a favorable location geographically, was also popular with the revelers of the 70’s. Thailand had all the beaches and sun that Europeans asked for.

Not to be discouraged, Singapore overcame its geographical disadvantage by building its remarkable success on its industry leading Airline and one of the most awarded Airports in the world. Passengers asked to be booked via Singapore and on Singapore Airlines; such were the standards it set.

Yet human intervention has its limits. Cities & hubs have risen and fallen throughout the history of humankind as circumstances changed. Even recent aviation history shows examples that define these changes- Bahrain, once a pre-eminent transfer point for Europeans traveling to Asia wilted as other hubs in the Middle East rose. Calcutta, an important mid-point for the British forces declined & remains the most poorly connected major city by air in India today.

As aircraft range/payload improved and continues to improve further, the rise of Middle East poses a threat to the Singapore hub and this is well documented & thought about. For the Airlines in Middle East are, quite literally, in the middle of the world now- New aircraft have brought Sydney well within the reach of Dubai even as Emirates introduces newer services to the western coast of United States. It flies to Buenos Aires (albeit with a stop today) and by and large delivers on its mission of connecting any urban conglomerate with another within 8000 nautical miles of Dubai, with enroute stop at its Dubai hub. With the 9600 NM range offered by 777-8x, scheduled for delivery in 2021, this mission statement would be more than fulfilled. 

Singapore, on the other hand, hemmed in by geography, finds limits to its ambitions- it cannot profitably access the US market without a stop either in Europe or somewhere in Asia, whether its Japan, Korea or Taiwan. It is this limitation that makes Singapore Airline extremely possessive about its bread & butter Kangaroo route. It has forced SQ to refuse to allow any other carrier to effectively use its network, despite being a member of Star Alliance.

And indeed it was this limitation that was behind the thought of investing money into other carriers such as Virgin Atlantic, helped of course by zero debt and available cash. As the Kangaroo hop starts to lose its spring, Singapore had to act.     
Tata’s Airline is re-born

No one can remain young forever. And so it is with the Singapore Girl. Singaporeans may squirm at the thought of their legendary icon being thus described but as unsexy as this may appear, she is about to become a mother to an Indian offspring fathered by the Tata’s.

Notwithstanding the genetic advantage this offspring may enjoy at birth, it may still be a worthwhile question to ask: What shape & size and looks would (should) the new-born take? Not all royals have succeeded and being born in royalty indeed is sometimes a disadvantage.

Take a peep into the airline world and one can, broadly, catalogue airlines into 3 types or business models:  

1.    Network driven characterized by complex network systems built over years. So most legacy US & European carriers will fall into this category, & Emirates would too, as it still is a network carrier, just newer. Today’s large airline systems would be tomorrow’s legacy carriers.

2.    Product driven in a classical differentiation strategy, some carriers sought to build their offerings around a superior product so the likes of Singapore Airlines and Virgin Atlantic would fall in this category. They have introduced many new aircraft to the market, kept onboard product standards ahead of others and spent extra-ordinarily higher on building a brand through an advertising strategy.

3.    Low cost carriers that focus on one single segment of the market with simplified operational footprint enabling them to offer a lower price.

One can add a few more business models like the regionals or the boutique all business class carriers but all of them are essentially either variations of the above or extensions of the same basic models.

Models above illustrated in the figure below

 Gradually, carriers at any of the 3 ends of the triangle have continued to adapt & adopt best practices from each other such that their basic business model isn’t materially compromised with the desire to enhance their offerings to a larger segment. With the result that more and more carriers have started to closely resemble each other and their models appear to be indistinguishable. So low cost carriers are increasingly interlining and codesharing with legacy carriers and product based carriers want to get into alliances to enhance their networks and so on and so forth. 

It won’t be incorrect to say that typically the evolution of airlines has followed a set trajectory- First came the legacy carriers, which were then followed by some product based carriers and when the market was deregulated, it gave rise to a lot of low cost carriers. In general that trend has upheld. In India, however, no true network carrier has ever been attempted, perhaps restricted by over-burdening regulation or even by lack of physical infrastructure.

Finding the sweet spot of convergence

Time offers the luxury of critically evaluating the business models of those who have already played their hand, also referred to as the late mover’s advantage. So Emirates, which has largely played its hand & placed it bet (& what a bet it has played) for the next 30 years is, in that sense, exposed. Its business model is frozen in time now, it can only continue to enhance and refine its offering using some of the newer technology. It cannot modify its genetic make-up or, do so, only at a great risk to its business- something that Ryanair is attempting.

Tata has this late movers’ advantage. It has the luxury to see exactly what in each model is working or did not work. And it has the opportunity to chisel out a perfectly fitting model for its primary market that is India.

What is that perfectly suited model? Is it the ultra-luxury onboard that some in the Middle East are offering or something that CAPA suggests- a Hybrid model? – CAPA doesn’t quite define its characteristics- A hybrid could look like a Jetblue but then Jetblue does not fly long haul. Would it then mean 2 different models for International & domestic? Besides, Indigo, is likely to look more and more like a hybrid carrier that closely resembles Jetblue, as it upgrades its offering and continues to have a spectacular operational record. So a Hybrid carrier, as it is generally understood today, is already a groove that is filled.   

Should Tata instead look like its parent Singapore Airline? If indeed there was a sustainable market for first class in India, why did Jet Airways private cabins in its 777-300ER’s not succeed? There is evidence to suggest that while there may be a small International market for the first class, it is not profitable for an India based carrier to offer one as seen in the cases of both Air India and Jet Airways.

In my opinion, Singapore Airlines’ product offering in its front cabins is a notch higher than what the Indian market would buy in enough numbers. And those who do want to buy such a product could always infact look at the Middle East carriers present in India or indeed Singapore Airlines depending on whether they are flying West or East.     

Something that is not so high up on luxury as to have priced itself out of the Indian market, nor as low down as to have erased any desired differentiation with a carrier like Indigo, What model offers that sweet spot of convergence?

After scanning the market for carriers that most closely resemble this desired model that offers just the right product elements for a full service carrier while still retaining the best practices of a low cost, the recommendation would be to look at what Air New Zealand has achieved.   

Scale is not to be feared

Being at the very end of the continent, like Air New Zealand is, does not offer you too many opportunities to connect traffic. Air NZ makes the most of what opportunities it has. It has carved out a neat niche for itself as a pre-dominant gateway to the numerous Pacific Islands. It flies the very lucrative and very profitable US routes and it has the domestic NZ-Australia business. And it does all this while still being profitable. If this is not enough, it wins awards too (the genuine ones).

Air New Zealand has had to face a lot of low cost competition too but they adapted- Air New Zealand was one of the first full service carriers (Air Canada was the first) to simplify, unbundle and brand its fares to compete with the LCC’s.

For product, Air NZ has been a pioneer by introducing the Skycouch in the economy class. It was also quick to introduce a premium economy class right at the beginning of the trend. In general, Air NZ has built its brand in a way that appeals to a younger audience- whether being active on social media or driving an advertising campaign viral (We have nothing to hide) they have captured not just eyeballs but also imagination, something many airlines are trying to emulate.

Air NZ was also the first to introduce sharklets in its narrow body fleet. It is the also the first to fly the B-789.  

One of the threats that consistently come up is the scale at which Middle Eastern carriers are operating and it is set to grow even larger as more aircraft are delivered. Combined with this scale is the unparalleled access to markets that allows them to deliver a ruthless cost advantage over any other carrier in the same space. Their labor force is largely from the sub-continent or low wage Asian countries, while a big part of their revenue source is Europe. Emirates is the very reason why no low cost long haul operator may ever succeed.

So how can other airlines, much smaller in size, compete? One answer was to join forces in alliances but it hasn’t quite helped smaller carriers or at least the jury is still out on this subject.

Here’s an unusual analogy on scale: Think of US forces in Afghanistan- As the US decided to increase its presence- add more soldiers on the ground, popularly termed the surge, Taliban responded by saying they now simply have a bigger, more visible target to hit.

Scale is not to be feared. The greater the scale of operations, more the complexity; slower the ability to respond. More the moments of truth generated more the likelihood that they would come out sub-par. Viewed from the angle of customer service, scale is most often a disadvantage. What is lost in cost competitiveness can be made up by agility. The evidence of this is also found in how US forces are changing- instead of becoming larger, they are becoming more agile. Just like Air NZ found its profitable niche (albeit it is argued it is far away from Emirates source markets), Tata could too.

Exploring Blue Oceans
What International routes can Tata-SQ fly and why?


Europe is a lost cause to attempt for an airline based in India. If there is a market that was lost in the interim 20 years that Tata did not get to start its services, it is Europe. With over 80 cities served by MEB3 (Middle East Big 3) and Turkish, it is nearly impossible to penetrate it profitably. A token route to London is often considered to be more attractive to local corporate clients in India but to make it profitable would be an uphill task with so much capacity already deployed. Instead a better idea is to tap into existing capacity by offering them more & deeper access into India, the Indian-Sub-continent & parts of Indochina, notably Myanmar. This helps SQ win back some customers to the group who may have been transferring via the Middle East to avoid backtracking that is unavoidable when transiting via Bangkok or Singapore. This could be achieved either by joining an alliance or better still by developing bilateral relationships with individual European airlines that matter.

North America

No Indian carrier can avoid looking at this market because of its volumes and yields but it is here that one finds the biggest overlaps with Air India. Today most of this market is served via hubs in Europe & will be increasingly served via the Middle East, as Jet joins the Etihad network, the opening of the US customs post in Abu Dhabi and with Emirates increasing the number of cities it serves in the US.  Assuming that AI did not exist, there is a case for offering services to the East Coast gateway cities in much the same as AI does today. The only thing that can & must be done differently is to partner with the new-age carriers at these gateways like JetBlue in JFK and West Jet in Toronto.

Africa- Project Cheetah

It is Africa that offers Tata-SIA, the chance to explore Blue Ocean. This is a chance to connect North Asia- China, Korea and Japan to Africa via its hub in Delhi, in what will be, the fastest possible transit route. In doing so, Tata will compete with of course the Middle East hubs (and with Ethiopian & Kenya Air who have existing direct routes to China) but because a large slice of source market actually resides in India, it is hoped that with a superior product and a flawless hub, Tata could win, much like SIA did on the Kangaroo route.        

A note on nomenclature

The Australia to Europe route has long been called the ‘Kangaroo-route’ because of the hop it requires at a mid-point such as Singapore or Bangkok.  Similarly, the project to directly connect North Asia to Africa via a mid-point in India, could be called Project ‘Cheetah’, as it will be the fastest way to get from North Asia to Africa. Cheetah is the fastest animal on land.

Views on this blog are personal

Saturday, March 08, 2014

Myanmar- The Next Thailand

Myanmar, a nation of 53 million people is the latest & possibly one of the last big markets to open up to the Airline/travel Industry.  Can it become the next Thailand?

Thailand is a nation of 70 million people and a neighbour to Myanmar. Both share many of the geographical characteristics including a long, thin peninsular tail that allows for a long beautiful coastline that is a huge draw for the tourists that Thailand has so successfully tapped into. In the last 15 years, tourist arrivals in Thailand went up from 8 million (1998) to more than triple the numbers- 27 million in 2013.  To put it in perspective, it’s like the whole population, every single person, in Australia & New Zealand visiting Thailand every year. It wasn’t always like this. In 1970, Thailand use to get less than a million visitors. Myanmar received roughly 1 million visitors in 2012. Hence the comparison with Thailand seems appropriate.

Domestic Services
Currently, Myanmar lists down 43 Airports in total, of which several are unpaved and unsuitable for scheduled services (See map below with all Myanmar Airports marked).

As a matter of fact, only 18 seem to be connected with a scheduled service as per the schedules available. 

See list of Airport below. Those highlighted yellow are the ones that have a scheduled service available today. Of this, 5 airports namely, Yangon, Mandalay, Nyaung-U/Bagan, Nay Pyi Taw- the new capital city and Myitkyina are those that could be considered right for frequency led growth.

In addition to this, Sittwe (previously Akyab) and Dawei (previously Tavoy) have potential for serious growth if the proposed port projects come through. Also Thandwe Airport in the west of the country receives a good number of flights with tourists bound for the Ngapali beach, which is widely considered the best developed beach resort in Myanmar today.But as in Thailand, there is no doubt a number of high potential beach destinations could be developed along the Andaman sea peninsular stretch of Myanmar. 

International Services

After many years of isolation, Myanmar is finally rapidly gaining connectivity to the International world. Existing services are clearly skewed heavily towards the east of the country given the cultural & historical affinity, in particular to Thailand, as it has been a major transit point for International passengers, even when the country was relatively closed to the outside world. Singapore is the second most important destination, as most of the investment coming into the country is currently been channeled through the financial hub in Singapore. 

Several new services started in 2012 with Japan, Korea, Hong Kong, Taipei, China, Vietnam and Malaysia all quickly getting connected.  Towards the west, Qatar Airways started services, with the hope of serving the Europe/US bound traffic. Condor also operated seasonal charters for 1 season. While Traffic to Europe will eventually develop with tourism numbers rising as more infrastructure comes online, particularly from the UK, Germany, France and possibly Russia just as is received by Thailand, it is too thin currently for a carrier from Myanmar to get into long haul Intercontinental routes that can only be done with wide-body aircraft. These markets could be easily accessed through hubs in the Middle East or through partnership with European carriers who may be interested in flying directly. 

However, several critical gaps still remain on the short haul sectors that can be easily and profitably filled

Following current opportunities could be considered: 


Myanmar is already relatively well connected to China, with services to Beijing, Guangzhou, Hong Kong, Chengdu, Kunming and Nanning. However, services to Shanghai could be considered at some stage to further develop the tourist market.


India remains a huge opportunity. Only Kolkata and Gaya are connected today however, opportunity exists to reconnect the capital New Delhi to begin with. In addition, Imphal, capital of Manipur could be considered as an extension of Yangon-Sittwe flight, if the port project comes through.

Myanmar has a sizable population of Indian descent. They are either from Bengal or are of Tamil origins. Kolkata is already connected. However, Chennai could be connected. In addition to trade and VFR traffic, there is also a considerable opportunity for people traveling for medical treatment.


Jakarta is the only other major city in South East Asia that is not directly connected but has reasonably good traffic numbers to start direct services


Phnom Penh remains unconnected but shows potential with over 20,000 annual passengers. 



The Airport capacity at Yangon’s International airport is currently highly constraint. New capacity will take some time to materialize. Major expansion is not currently possible without sacrificing operational efficiency.

Unavailability of Visa on arrival, particularly for Indian and Chinese nationals is also a restrictive practice affecting faster tourism and trade growth.  

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Moshi Moshi Japan


An account of life in Japan as a Gaijin Gakusei (roughly translated as a foreign student)


As the Northwest Airline 747-400 touched the runway at Narita, one could not help looking out to the surrounding rice paddies thinking about the Japanese farmer who held out his farm right at the end of the runway for 30 long years protesting against the Japanese government’s decision to build the Airport. But then, I was coming to no less a place than Japan- I was warned to expect to be on MARS. A Japanese soldier had been discovered in the dense tropical jungles of one of the isolated Philippines’ Islands some years ago and his story was still fresh in the media. He had been in hiding for 29 years with no idea about the war ending and a Japanese military official had to be brought in to make him surrender. I had come to expect some rather amusing idiosyncrasies during my time at Japan.


To tell you the truth I wasn’t disappointed for one moment. Just as we were entering the Airport premises there was a large canvas cheerfully greeting the arriving tourists with a boldly typed “Welcome To Japan” but just as a precaution that that message may be taken too literally, there was also another message in parenthesis just below, that said almost as an afterthought “…But please follow the rules…”.  It was to become far clearer to me later on in life that that message, in many ways defined Japan. It hasn’t really closed itself to the world, but nor had it completely embraced it. Indeed every foreigner that ever visited Japan has a Japan story to tell.


There were many amusements for the new arrivals- Not the least of them was the ubiquitous vending machines, selling almost about everything- from piping hot English Tea in bright blue colored cans to, my personal favorite- A choice of shirt and tie combination that I saw in the business district of Ginza. There were the gloved & tuxedoed Taxi drivers driving shiny black Mercedes that made me feel like I was headed to attend the Oscars. The rest of world drove Toyotas as taxis so this appeared somewhat an anomaly. There were the numerous advertisements everywhere for English Teachers but only “Caucasians need apply”. There was the Pachinko and there were the Karaoke bars, Japanese stuff that had by now found its way to many places in the world but nothing like seeing them in their original place- a visit to one with my classmates was particularly memorable- those of them who hesitated to speak even one full sentence of English in the classroom were suddenly transformed into living versions of Beetles singing their songs in flawless English and flair. Elvis made its appearance too, complete with wigs with long sideburns that one could hire from the bar to complete the experience. And the women- they drank like fish & held on to their Sake.


As a poor starving student, too lazy to cook, I sought refuge in a near-by Mcdonald’s store complete with tiny steps drawn on the floor that led to the counter to ensure that the queue wasn’t just there, it was also a straight one. Only to find that the ‘Happy meal and Cha’ that I had ordered wasn’t making me happy at all as it threatened to break my budget for a full week. Then just by sheer chance & curiosity, I stepped into a Kai-ten (mini conveyor belt) Sushi parlour to the loud chants of Irasshaimase!  And I was a convert right away. Not only was it far cheaper & healthier, I would have missed such an integral part of being in Japan.     


For the record, I was in Japan to study at the Keio Business School at their Hiyoshi campus that fell mid-way between downtown Tokyo and the suburban train line to Yokohama. There wasn’t any lack of learning in the class either- we had scores of visits- each week- Most were outstanding- We went to see Nissan’s completed automated car plant in Yokohama- with large robotic arms doing most of the welding work (this is also where Carlos Ghosn, the French chief who is widely credited for turning around Nissan was to later make his mark). The plant had an integrated port to ship the cars just as they were completed so here was an example of Just in time manufacturing principle that Japanese first came up with. It was hard not be impressed with the very stylish & very suave office of Dentsu Advertising at Ginza. Infact, it may have been too stylish for me- it took me quite a while to figure out how the faucet at the sink worked. Designer stuff was everywhere. Yet, it was not all style- ample substance came out in their presentations about some of the campaigns they ran which must have impressed me, for I preserved them. Then, there were the guest lecturers from Coca-Cola and Ajinomoto (In India, it is sometimes used as generic name for Sodium bicarbonate that is probably a carry on from the pre-war times, but today it is a large Japanese drinks company). Coke explained how it introduced the Vending machine innovation in the Japanese market, because it could find no distributors ready to take up a Gaijin’s product and how, in Japan, it surprisingly sold more coffee than Coke. I had just read Peter Robinson’s very popular ‘Snapshots from Hell- Making of an MBA student’, so all of this was mildly amusing. Ajinomoto, not far behind, even made us come up with a new drink idea for them. I promptly came up with ginger-infused tea.


But through all this, what emerged was a larger picture of the Japanese consumer that though sometimes touched on the absurd, was deeply insightful. The rounder melon was far more expensive than the not so round one. Packaging for most products cost far more than the product itself. Most products were overdone with packaging. The marketing professor wasn’t coy about telling us that most Japanese women wore bras a cup size lower because that’s how men preferred them. For me, there were also the visits to the ANA offices at Haneda Airport. Again it is somewhat ironical that ANA, that has done so well lately, was in the throes of a restructuring in 1999 selling off most of its hotel assets. JAL was the Numero Uno carrier at the time. Things are exactly the opposite today. Skymark, the first Japanese LCC promoted by the discount travel agency H.I.S had just arrived with a Microsoft logo painted at the bottom of the aircraft that was quite a trend.  And then there was the legendry Shinkansen. I couldn’t have asked for more by way of an education.


Evenings were time to be by oneself, because I couldn’t have afforded the expensive nightlife of Ginza- the choice was to sit in the Campus library or watch some TV in the confines of my room (Japanese of course). As Stanley Bing, the columnist at Fortune Magazine says, there was non-stop sports action on Japanese TV. People shown fishing. And apparently it was a popular program. Many an evening’s were spent watching Schwarzenegger’s films dubbed in Japanese. Some that had English sub-titles almost made me weep with joy. There was also Muthu complete with English sub-titles, the Rajnikant movie that for some very strange reasons was so liked in Japan that it broke all records. Then one day quite by chance, I saw something that has held me curious ever since. Amongst the various Japanese traditional celebrations, there is one, that is a like a little game played on the beach- it is part of a harvest festival I am told. Scores of young Japanese lads would get together and tie a white clothed tail to a player. Then they would light it up. The player’s task was to run as fast as he could to the beach to douse the fire on the tail. And this went on with everyone taking turns. If you are an Indian and if you were to see this on TV, what is the first thing that will come to your mind? Could it be that the legend of Ramayana somehow reached the shores of Japan & got incorporated in the local folklore? There is also the Kabuki- while it is a well-established Japanese Dance form, looking at it with my eyes it looked strikingly similar to Kerala’s Kathakali down to the movement of eyes and the costumes.           


There was so much more that came my way just from the sights and sounds- At Hakone, a resort town roughly an hour’s drive away from Tokyo, I was to experience staying at a Ryokan,  a traditional Japanese Inn & took a dip in Japan’s famed natural Onsens (Hot spring baths). One dip & a look at the beautiful cherry blossoms outside, and believe me, I was threatening to attempt a Haiku (Short Poems using imagery) using my classmates as audience. Then, at Kamakura’s Great Buddha temple, amidst thousands of messages written by devotees in katakana dedicated to this 13th century Bronze statue monument, I spotted one that was a touching tribute from a Japanese student written to his guru. I could read it because it was written in clean, legible Devanagari Hindi script. It was hard not to be spellbound.     


There was ample opportunity to keep going back to Japan for work, as the student life came to an end but it could never be the same. What you can see & experience as a student in Japan, you can never otherwise. There is far too much convention for anyone to let down their guard and be misunderstood. Japan has changed in the intervening years since 1999 I am told. But I do hope that many of its peculiarities remain just the way I experienced them. Japan would be much the poorer, if it were to lose its love for the queer, for what is different. Because it is such a delight to experience, such an anti-dote to the conformity that the Japanese society is otherwise known for. 

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Christening Tata-SQ’s new airline venture

This morning, it was interesting to read a news article on Tata-Singapore Airlines seeking a catchy brand name for its new airline venture in India.

When David Neelman, the serial airline entrepreneur was starting off his new airline venture in Brazil, he decided to come up with a competition, open to public, for finding a new name for it. The idea seems to have worked quite well as the Airline was name Azul Brazilian Airline- Azul in Portuguese is Blue. It’s crisp and short, easy to remember and pronounce. Besides, it naturally defined the colour scheme for the new airline making the job for the branding team probably much easier.

So what could be a good name for Tata-SIA’s new Airline?  I am not sure if ‘catchy’ is an interpretation that came from the MINT journalist who wrote the story or if it is really the intent of the airline management- it is not unusual for full service airlines to go for a ‘catchy’ name for its low cost subsidiaries – Jazz, Rouge & Scoot are some examples. But full service airlines typically stick to the more orthodox names. The other adjective used in the news story is-‘freshness’ that is somewhat more helpful in guessing the objective of finding a neutral name that does not include either Tata or Singapore Airline in it.

I pondered on a number of names for a while, keeping in the mind the imagery they may convey. These included Lotus Air, Air Singha, Basil Air, Air Chakra or even Ginger but I gave up on all of them. Lotus is too closely associated with a political party. Singha is a Singaporean beer brand. Ginger too, is an existing low cost hotel brand owned by Tatas themselves. Basil as a name, although isn’t pre-existing to the best of my knowledge, does sound a bit bland and its imagery would be difficult to portray distinctively on an airline livery. Chakra on the hand is great on an aircraft tail and it’s highly symbolic as it appears on the Indian flag but the sound of the name does not quite do it for me.

Then, I started to look at Airline liveries across the world and a couple of them appealed to me quite a bit- Air Canada’s Maple leaf logo – very distinct, very identifiable and easily portrayed across all the brand touch points. It is also a national symbol for Canada.

Similarly, Air New Zealand’s fern- visually so appealing and rooted in symbolism as it is a Māori symbol for new life.

Maple leaf logo

Air New Zealand’s unfolding fern

Aer Lingus’ Irish Shamrock

This set me thinking about the uniquely Indian botanical symbols and what could be more uniquely Indian than the Pīpal tree and it’s uniquely shaped conical leaf. Infact, it is so deeply rooted in Indian religion and so steeped in mythology that its binomial name is Ficus Religiosa or the ‘sacred Fig’.

Buddha attained enlightenment meditating under this tree. It is also well known that its leaves were used for writing upon, so the bond with it is well established and the symbolism is unmistakable.    

An image of a Pīpal leaf

There were atleast 2 other great reasons why it appealed to me:

First, companies like to use primary colours on their brand names and/or logos. Green is a primary colour. It goes very well with the idea of ‘Freshness’ (Pīpal is well established as an excellent supplier of oxygen which again fortifies the idea of freshness). Above all, Green, as a airline brand colour isn’t taken yet. (Jet Airways uses blue & yellow; Air India uses red; Kingfisher used a particularly aggressive hue of red too; Spicejet uses orange, Indigo uses..well..indigo as in colour indigo and so on. Green is a primary colour and a good hue of green can look quite attractive & distinct visually although it may not be very useful at other places such as on staff uniforms. But like Jet, these could follow a different color with probably a scarf or tie in green.

Second, I felt, Pīpal sounds exactly like People, so there is a nice ring to it. And there is a derived or perceptual meaning lent to the brand name even for those who may not know the deeper symbolic meaning. 

My money therefore would be on Pīpal or Peepal Air. J

(Yes, I know People’s Express and yes I know it failed but this is about the only downside I see. Besides there is a group of people who want to revive it with the same name).