BUS 220519  Pieter Elbers-1652956866166
In February, IndiGo reported a quarterly profit for first time in two years. Image Credit: Reuters

Dubai: IndiGo has appointed former KLM Royal Dutch Airlines CEO Pieter Elbers to its top role, in a sign the Indian airline is looking to boost its international presence. Elbers, who will step into the new role on October 1, will replace current Ronojoy Dutta. Dutta, 71, was appointed at the helm of IndiGo in January 2019 and will retire by September-end after guiding IndiGo “through the turbulent COVID period”.

The choice of Elbers is no mere coincidence. IndiGo is set to take delivery of its first Airbus A321XLR aircraft and once these long-haul narrow-body jets are in service, the airline can target two markets: Europe and East Asia.

“This is where Elbers’ wealth of experience would help,” said Vinamra Longani, Head of Operations at Sarin & Co, an aviation legal firm. “While the airline has a significant regional presence already, IndiGo has on more than one occasion expressed its interest in expanding its global footprint.”

Codeshare partnerships

IndiGo has a codeshare deal in place with Air France-KLM Group, which owns and operates Air France, KLM and low-cost airline Transavia. The agreement went into effect last week after both parties got necessary government approvals. “This codeshare agreement will allow us to increase our local footprint and to improve connectivity between India - one of the fastest growing markets - and the rest of the world, via our Paris-Charles de Gaulle and Amsterdam-Schiphol hubs,” said Henri de Peyrelongue, Executive Vice-President for Commercial Sales at Air France-KLM.

“We are very proud at Air France-KLM to be the first major European airline group to initiate cooperation with IndiGo,” he added.

Since the resumption of normal international flights from India, IndiGo has also reactivated its codeshare agreement with Qatar Airways. As part of an expanded deal, Qatar Airways is placing its marketing code on IndiGo operated flights between Doha and several major Indian destinations.

Who is Pieter Elbers?
Elbers has been at the helm of KLM since 2014. The 52-year-old is also a member of the executive committee of the Air France – KLM Group.

He started his career in 1992 with KLM and, over the past three decades, held several managerial positions in the company in the Netherlands and other foreign markets.

"India promises to be the last bastion of ginormous growth globally and given Mr Elbers’ deep understanding of the business, his legendary leadership qualities coupled with his energy and passion, we are ever so confident that under his stewardship, IndiGo will play a pivotal role in this growth opportunity," said Indigo's Bhatia in a statement.

Back into profit

In February, IndiGo reported a quarterly profit for the first time in two years and predicted a recovery in its revenue numbers from April.“Things are not rebounding, but slowly getting better - at least we can say for sure that it is not getting worse,” said Dutta during an earnings call.

Air India effect

Indigo has seen a string of changes in its top management over the last few months. In February, the airline’s co-founder Rahul Bhatia took charge as managing director, and on February 18, fellow co-founder Rakesh Gangwal stepped down from the board of directors. Since then, IndiGo has announced the appointment of a new chairman, CFO and now a CEO.

These executive changes come as IndiGo braces to face tight competition from Akasa and Jet Airways in the domestic market.

Meanwhile, Air India, which was recently taken over by Tata Sons, is already making moves to build a loyal customer base and regain its dominance in the long-haul market. The airline recently announced the appointment of Campbell Wilson as CEO. Wilson, who is currently the CEO of Singaporean low-cost airline Scoot, will help in boosting Air India’s service quality and upgrading the airline’s in-flight offerings.