A model of an ATR 72-600 twin-engine turboprop aircraft, manufactured by Avions de Transport Regional (ATR).
A model of an ATR 72-600 twin-engine turboprop aircraft, manufactured by Avions de Transport Regional (ATR) Image Credit: Bloomberg

Dubai: Dubai-based investors of Kerala’s Zett Fly Aviation Private Limited announced on Monday that they have received an initial NOC from India’s Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA) to operate regional commuter air transport services.

Company stakeholders told Gulf News that the airline, to be branded as ‘Air Kerala,’ brings the long-awaited dream one step closer to reality. Afi Ahmed, Chairman of Zett Fly, stated that the company will operate domestic flights in Kerala using ATR 72-600 aircraft once it obtains an Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) from MoCA.

“We plan to raise INR 250 crores (approx. Dh109.9 million) initially. We aim to launch a domestic carrier in Kerala in the first phase and later expand into an international airline serving the Gulf-Kerala sector at affordable fares,” explained Ahmed.

Kochi, Kerala, would be the airline’s hub and headquarters, and the company’s stakeholders hope to launch operations with three ATR 72-60s.

An affordable airline

“We plan to connect Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities with Tier 1 and metro airports, which will help improve accessibility and convenience for travellers across these regions,” said Ahmed.

Afi Ahmed, Chairman, Zett Fly Aviation
This airline will promote trade, tourism and connectivity to and from Kerala, said Ahmed. Image Credit: Zett Fly Aviation

However, the start-up must undergo several additional steps before achieving commercial operations status.

“After securing the NOC, our next steps involve acquiring aircraft and complying with the regulatory requirements to obtain our Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC). This is a critical phase that ensures we meet all safety and operational standards set by the aviation authorities,” said Vice Chairman Ayub Kallada.

The government of Kerala first proposed the idea for Air Kerala in 2005 to provide Gulf Malayalees with affordable travel options; however, the project was shelved several times. Last year, Ahmed invested Dh1 million in the domain name airkerala.com.

Zett Fly’s board comprises Dubai–based businessmen Ahmed (who is also the Chairman of travel company Smart Travels), Kallada (Chairman and Managing Director of Kallada Food Industries), and Kanika Goyal.

3 ATR72-600s

The company hopes to launch initial operations with three ATR 72-600 aircraft, a twin-engine turboprop short-haul regional airliner developed and produced in France and Italy by the aircraft manufacturer ATR.

“We are currently exploring options in both the leasing market and direct procurement from manufacturers to ensure we have the best possible fleet for our operations,” said Ahmed. The aircraft has a seating capacity of 78 passengers.

Ayub Kallada, Vice Chairman, Zett Fly Aviation
The airline will bring 350 jobs to Kerala in the first year of operations, said Kallada. Image Credit: Zett Fly Aviation

What about international operations?

Kallada said international operations are in the pipeline. India follows a 5/20 law, where carriers are required to operate for five years and have a fleet of 20 aircraft before they can launch international operations.

“Once we expand our fleet to 20 aircraft, we will start exploring international routes to expand our reach and service offerings,” he said.

Job creator

The company hopes to create 350 jobs in Kerala during the first year of operations. “Moreover, we have identified key post holders, including our CEO, and will announce these appointments at the appropriate time,” said Ahmed.

“Additionally, we plan to source other employees from the local talent pool, ensuring we leverage the skills and expertise available within the community,” he added.

The project follows the Public-Private Partnership (PPP) model. The Kerala state government, Cochin International Airport (CIAL), and other parastatals hold a 25 per cent stake, while individuals and private entities will hold the remaining 74 per cent.