A former United Airlines president, Ronojoy Dutta, has taken the CEO seat at IndiGo, confirming speculation he was slated for the role when the Indian low-cost carrier appointed him in early December as principal consultant to chart a new five-year business plan.

IndiGo had been on the hunt for a new head since Adiya Ghosh resigned in April, and subsequently joined affordable accommodation platform Oyo. Following Ghosh’s resignation, the carrier appointed Gregory Taylor, another former United executive, as senior advisor and publicly earmarked him as possible president/CEO.

But that didn’t happen — a poor performance in the July to September quarter might have something to do with it — and Taylor left the company in December.

IndiGo co-founder Rakesh Gangwal worked at United between 1984 and 1994, which intersected with Dutta’s tenure there. Dutta’s career at United started in 1985, culminating with three years as the airline’s president, a post he left in 2002.

Gangwal’s familiarity with Dutta’s calibre aside, IndiGo, which has cornered 40 per cent of the domestic market, now wants to expand its global presence and step up long-haul operations.

Ronojoy Dutta

“We are very pleased that Rono is joining the IndiGo team. His enormous and varied experience and understanding of the complexities of the airline industry will be invaluable as IndiGo embarks on its next phase of growth,” said Rahul Bhatia, co-founder of IndiGo, in a statement.

In addition to being president, Dutta worked for nearly 20 years at United in senior leadership positions including senior vice president planning, senior vice president maintenance, vice president finance and vice president information technology, said the statement.

He was an advisor in the restructuring of both Air Canada and US Airways, and was engaged in long-term consulting contracts with Hawaiian Airlines and Air Canada. Dutta also has experience in the aviation industry in India, having served as the president of Air Sahara for two years.

On his appointment, Dutta said, “IndiGo has had phenomenal success in establishing itself as a world class airline, and I am so very happy to be given this opportunity to be a part of it. IndiGo is blessed to be operating in one of the highest growth economies of the world, and this opens up future opportunities for rapid growth. Most importantly, IndiGo has an enthusiastic, energetic workforce who are an absolute delight to work with. I look forward to working with the employees to ensure that IndiGo’s future is even brighter than its past.”

Strengthening international presence

During its earnings call last week, Bhatia reported a much lower net profit of INR1.9 billion ($27 million) in its fiscal third quarter, which ended December 2018, compared with INR7 6 billion ($107 million) for the same period in 2017. The airline blame the 75 percent profit drop on higher fuel prices and currency depreciation.

The net profit mark in the December quarter, however, represented a significant turnaround from its loss of $92 million in the September quarter, its first ever quarter in the red since listing three years ago.

Bhatia said he was “very happy with the way we have grown so far and remain very excited with what lies ahead.”

“As we have said before, we are focused on building a large and profitable air transportation network in and out of India and are adding capacity in line with our longterm growth plan,” he said.

Over the past year, IndiGo took delivery of 55 aircraft, roughly one aircraft a week. It now has 208 aircraft, making it possibly the only Indian carrier which has over 200 aircraft.

“In past, we have focused on setting up the right network domestically. Now with this in place, we are looking to strengthen our international presence. We have received our first A321neo, which has a higher seating capacity and lower unit costs compared to the A320neos and also has longer range. We plan to start direct flights to Istanbul from March and open other international destinations as the year progresses,” said Bhatia.

The airline currently offers over 1,300 daily flights and connects 52 domestic destinations and 15 international destinations.

Photo Credit: India's leading low-cost carrier, IndiGo, has plans to expand into long-haul service. It tapped Ronojoy Dutta as CEO. Bloomberg