Akasa Air (QP, Mumbai International) will have a fleet of 20 aircraft by summer 2023, by which time it will seek approval to commence international services, Akasa Air CEO Vinay Dube has told the Times of India in an interview.

“We are going to get our first B737 MAX in the second half of April, and our first commercial flight should be at the end of May or early June. By the end of March 2023, Akasa should have 18 aircraft,” he said in the interview published on January 11.

“Post that, over the next four years, we will induct twelve to fourteen MAX annually, taking our fleet to 72,” he added, referring to the number the start-up placed an order for with Boeing in November.

The low-cost carrier will apply for rights to fly internationally as soon as it meets India’s 0/20 rule, which unlike an earlier rule no longer requires airlines to have operated on competitive domestic routes for any length of time but does require a fleet of at least 20 aircraft. It will then operate to destinations such as other countries in South Asia, the Persian Gulf states, and Southeast Asia as soon as it receives permission.

Akasa Air’s head office will be in Mumbai, but it is in talks with a number of airport operators to decide on a primary hub depending on the availability of slots, check-in counters, and office space.

“Where we see our niche is flying between metros and tier two and three cities. That’s what we will target initially,” Dube said.

Dube previously held executive positions at Jet Airways and GoAir and has also worked at several large non-Indian carriers such as Delta Air Lines. Akasa Air is backed financially by billionaire investor Rakesh Jhunjhunwala and has a number of former executives of Indian airlines in its ranks including IndiGo Airlines’ ex-president, Aditya Ghosh. Recruitment of pilots, cabin crew, and ground staff has begun.

Many airlines in India have not made money due to a prohibitively expensive operating environment, jet fuel prices, and more recently the Covid-19 pandemic. Dube said Akasa Air will not make common mistakes.

“Airlines in India may have a certain record. I spent a decade with Delta in the US and they made billions of dollars in profit for ten years in a row. There’s no reason why a sector should remain perennially unhealthy. It’s a sector that is extremely important for India, for consumers. It’s a sector everyone can make money from in a very reasonable and rationale manner. That’s why we have decided to start the airline,” he said.