Malayali expats’ Air Kerala gets Centre’s nod, gears for take-off

KOCHI: The long-pending demand for Kerala’s own low-cost airline service to the Gulf has received a boost with Dubai-based Malayali entrepreneurs ‘Air Kerala’ obtaining a no-objection certificate (NOC) from the Union Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA).

Afi Ahmed and Ayub Kallada, co-founders of Zettfly Aviation, are behind the project, which focuses on “making air travel affordable and accessible”. “NOC is just the first step. Headquartered in Kochi, the company will operate domestic flights from Kerala. We will be using ATR 72-600 aircraft once we obtain an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) from MoCA. It will take another eight to nine months,” Afi Ahmed told TNIE over the phone.

“Once we procure the aircraft, Air Kerala will operate regionally before it can operate international flights. Initially, our focus is to connect Tier 2 and 3 cities with Tier 1 cities in south India,” said Ahmed. “We are planning to start operations with three ATR 72-600 aircraft,” he said.

The Air Kerala project was first conceived by the Kerala Government in 2005. However, the government’s failure to go ahead prompted the two businessmen to purchase the domain

“The Kerala government’s project remained a non-starter for 19 years. Since the domain was available, we thought of starting our own airline — India’s first ultra low-posh airline owned by expatriates — to make travel a viable option,” said Ahmed, the founder of UAE-based travel agency Smart Travels. The Kannur native has been in the travel and tourism business for over 25 years.

On the rising competition in the sector where private airlines, including Vistara and IndiGo, are already established, Ahmed said despite having four airports, Kerala does not have its own airline.

Zettfly Aviation’s board comprises Afi Ahmed (chairman), who holds 63% of the shares, and Ayub Kallada, vice-chairman with 37% shares. “If expatriates are interested in investing, we will form a new board and register as a new company,” said Ahmed. About the operations on the international routes, Ahmed said: “Once the airline company expands its fleet to 20 aircraft, we will explore the international routes, staring with Dubai.”

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