Bird Group: Lufthansa’s old­est sales agent in In­dia spreads its wings

Mint ST - - DEALS - BY AM­RIT RAJ am­rit.r@livemint.com NEW DELHI

Bird Group, which on Wed­nes­day ex­pressed in­ter­est in bid­ding for the ground han­dling sub­sidiary of Air In­dia, started as a gen­eral sales agent (GSA) for the Ger­man air­line Deutsche Lufthansa AG in 1971.

The story of the group’s founder Vi­jay Bha­tia is iden­ti­cal to that of a host of New Delhi-based first gen­er­a­tion en­trepreneurs such as Qi­mat Rai Gupta of Havells In­dia Ltd or Vivek Chaand Sehgal of Mother­son Sumi Sys­tems Ltd, who started off in the 1970s as small busi­ness­men seek­ing to tap op­por­tu­ni­ties that sought to re­de­fine In­dia in the economy’s for­ma­tive years.

Though Bha­tia may not have grown as much as Gupta (Mother­son is In­dia’s big­gest auto com­po­nents maker) or Sehgal (Havells is one of In­dia’s largest mak­ers of elec­tri­cal prod­ucts), he has dis­played the same per­se­ver­ance and en­tre­pre­neur­ial spirit and striven as hard to en­sure con­stant growth in a very niche busi­ness area.

In 1987, four Euro­pean air­lines—lufthansa, Air France, Scan­di­na­vian and Ibe­ria— joined hands to set up Amadeus, which was a com­put­erised reser­va­tion sys­tem that merged the air­lines’ ex­ist­ing reser­va­tion sys­tems to cre­ate the largest Euro­pean Global Dis­tri­bu­tion Sys­tem (GDS).

In the pre-in­ter­net era, this sys­tem was to change the way air­line book­ings took place. This also proved to be a turn­ing point for Bird Group.

In 1994, Bird Group brought Amadeus to In­dia, with the ob­jec­tive of pro­vid­ing in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy (IT) and soft­ware ser­vices, de­vel­op­ing soft­ware prod­ucts and au­to­mated tools for the travel trade.

The tech­nol­ogy, es­sen­tially, is a web-based, user-friendly so­lu­tion for air­line ticket book­ing.

To­day, Amadeus In­dia claims to be the lead­ing provider of in­for­ma­tion tech­nol­ogy so­lu­tions to the travel trade in In­dia, with over 50% mar­ket share.

The group has also di­ver­si­fied into avi­a­tion ser­vices such as ground han­dling at air­ports in Delhi, Bengaluru, Mum­bai, Goa, Gaya, Ahmedabad and Kochi.

It runs a busi­ness lounge in Ban­ga­lore and has started an MRO (main­te­nance, re­pair and op­er­a­tions) cen­tre at Delhi air­port.

Bird also pro­vides in­fra­struc­ture for pri­vate jet op­er­a­tors at Delhi Air­port, owns BMW show­rooms and runs five ho­tels--two in Delhi and three in the UK.

As for the bid for Air In­dia Air Trans­port Ser­vices Ltd (AIATSL), it could of­fer po­ten­tial, but the Bha­tias are yet to as­sess it.

“We have no idea about the op­por­tu­nity. In this busi­ness, the real value is num­ber of turns you do. I have no idea about yields,” a per­son aware of Bird’s plans said on con­di­tion of anonymity.

Turns re­fer to the ar­rivals and de­par­tures that an air­line makes to and from a par­tic­u­lar air­port.

“For en­tire AI op­er­a­tions, they han­dle 150 turns and they have sig­nif­i­cant cus­tomer base, which makes them the largest to do so,” the per­son added.

To be sure, with five large ground han­dling com­pa­nies op­er­at­ing, it makes for tough com­pe­ti­tion.

“A con­sol­i­da­tion in the sec­tor is due,” the per­son added.

Bird Group founder Vi­jay Bha­tia.

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