‘Jet Airways designed airline’s business class seat in garage’

NEW DELHI, June 16: Have you ever heard of an airline’s business class seat being developed inside a garage? That’s what stiff competition did to Jet Airways.

Former Director General and CEO of IATA, Giovanni Bisignani, says Jet Airways chief Naresh Goyal developed his airline’s business class mock-ups in utter secrecy inside the garage of his London home.

In his book — ‘Shaking the Skies’ — which could be considered to be an autobiography, Bisignani has come up with several interesting tidbits about India, including his personal relationship with leaders like Indira Gandhi and Rajiv Gandhi and the developments in the aviation sector here.

Describing the Jet Airways chief as “a leader with brilliant ideas and a very colourful character”, the former chief of International Air Transport Association (IATA) says Goyal had started from “scratch” to build a very impressive career.

“At one point, he was implementing the most elegant business class in Asia with the help of a famous Italian designer. He was so concerned about keeping the plans secret that all the mock-ups were set up in the garage of his wonderful London home. I think that shows how competitive airlines can be. Airports don’t have to worry about things like this,” Bisignani writes.

In his earlier ‘avatar’, Bisignani was senior vice president of international affairs of IRI, a holding company for some 500 firms including famous Italian brands like Alfa Romeo car manufacturer, Alitalia airline (of which he later became the CEO) and many Italian banks.

It was then that he developed a rapport with Prime Minister Indira Gandhi as he negotiated the sale of petrochemical refineries and power generation plants to India.

“We had tea together on many occasions in the most beautiful gardens imaginable, part of her official residence in New Delhi. It was in these gardens that she was later assassinated by two of her bodyguards”, Bisignani says.

Noting that Rajiv and brother Sanjay Gandhi were “on very different paths at that time”, Bisignani says Rajiv was “persuaded by his mother to be her political successor” after Sanjay’s death in a flying accident in 1980.

“Rajiv was a kind, friendly man, and it amazed me he could be so personable and yet slip seamlessly into the role of leader of the largest democracy in the world. I carried on meeting him even after he became Prime Minister and established a good personal relationship.

“Rajiv liked (Italian) Alpha Romeo cars. He knew all the latest developments, the nuances of each model. Fortunately, I did my homework and we always had a lively exchange on the car manufacturer’s future as well as aviation issues”, Bisignani writes.

Analysing the positives and negatives of the Indian aviation sector, Bisignani speaks of his relationship with former Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel.

“He (Patel) lacked the political support needed to see his policies through to conclusion and the merger between Air India and Indian Airlines has become a disaster.”

Observing that the merger was “very unsuccessful”, he says, “I had supported Minister Patel opening up Indian skies and said that the best way to take advantage of all the new bilateral agreements was to have a strong Indian airline.

“But I warned him that any merger would need the full support of the government because it was liable to get very rough. Unfortunately, that has proved to be the case”, he writes.

After being elected to the top IATA post in 2002 which he continued to occupy for nine-long years, Bisignani implemented and oversaw enormous changes in global aviation.

He also writes on how he met the challenges to the world aviation industry, from the 9/11 terror strikes to the massive financial losses, the sector doing away with paper tickets and introducing e-ticketing and aviation environmental issues.

His interactions with the first man on moon, Neil Armstrong, slain Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi, Pope John Paul II, UN Secretary General Ban Ki Moon and several world leaders also find place in the book. (PTI)


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