My Business: Nepalese airline taking off
- 16 October 2013
- From the section Business
What makes an entrepreneur? The BBC's Surendra Phuyal hears from Birendra Bahadur Basnet, a private-airline owner in Nepal, about the risks he took starting his business, and how he believes success can be achieved.
He does not come from a family of business people. His father is a retired judge, his ancestors were farmers in eastern Nepal. But Birendra Bahadur Basnet, 49, is amongst Nepal's most successful entrepreneurs. He has carved a niche in the country's not-so-impressive aviation sector in just a few years.
When he registered his airline, Buddha Air, and started operations in 1996, the business graduate from a Kathmandu university had only one aircraft that was purchased with a loan: a US-made Beechcraft 1900D.
Nearly two decades later, he is is the proud owner of nine aircraft - three Beechcraft 1900, three ATR 42-320 and three ATR 72-500 aircraft.
Basnet's Buddha Air fleet is the largest in Nepal's domestic sector.
"When we obtained the loan of around NPR 70m (£442,000; $708,000) in 1996 to set up our business and purchase an aircraft, our friends and relatives and other people said we had gone mad," Basnet, says, smiling. "But we started doing good in aviation sector and we paid our loan after six years," he says, adding his airline business has grown almost ten-fold since then.
When he started, he recalls Nepal's state-owned airline Royal Nepal Airlines was not particularly successful and the newly liberalised domestic aviation market was looking for stable players from the private sector.
"That's precisely where we saw the gap and we jumped in," he says. "The market was competitive, but safety, reliability and comfort being our mantra, we succeeded in winning the trust of our customers and we have been adding aircraft, one after another to our fleet."
'A very sad experience'
Basnet's road to success has not been easy though; the biggest blow came in September 2011 when one of his Beechcraft crashed on a hill near Kathmandu while returning from an aborted Mount Everest sightseeing flight, killing 19 people.
"We thought we were invincible, but that crash proved we were not," he said, tears welling up in his eyes. "We lost three of our great colleagues, several other people and the aircraft.
"That was a very sad experience that we had, but that also helped us grow."
After the crash, he says, the airline did a review of its flight safety mechanisms and other related procedures to ensure that Buddha Air's safety standards remain impeccable.
"We thought people would choose other airlines after the crash, we were concerned," he says. "But that didn't affect our business. People - both Nepalis and foreigners - continued to love us."
Up, up and away
Every morning, Buddha Air attracts dozens of foreign tourists to Kathmandu airport for its early morning sightseeing flights to the Mount Everest region - it hosted former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan when he visited Nepal in 2001.
Boasting Nepal's first private airline to have its own hangar within Kathmandu Airport premises, Buddha Air flies to major towns inside Nepal and connects the Indian city of Varanashi with Kathmandu.
"We are the first private airline to fly outside Nepal," says Basnet, adding that he plans to take Buddha Air to other major cities in the Asia Pacific region in future to better facilitate connectivity for passengers flying into and out of Nepal.
Buddha Air currently employs more than 700 people, offering them salaries between 150 dollars and thousands of dollars per month.
"They are a mostly happy bunch of people," he says. "We are like a happy family, but still we need to make sure that everyone is looked after and content."
His recipe for success remains this: "Don't multi-task, focus on your goal. Success is floating around, all you have to do is go and grab it. But again, you have to focus on what you want to do and what you want to achieve."