Air Kerala moves closer to launch, aims to connect South India to Middle East 

ATR-42 aircraft

A new low-cost airline is preparing to launch in India. Startup carrier Air Kerala has received the initial No-objection Certificate (NOC) from the Civil Aviation Ministry of India.  

Once issued, the NOC is valid for three years, during which the startup carrier will need to gain its Air Operator Certificate (AOC). The new airline will also need to secure aircraft and the required funding, which its founders estimate at between US$12 and 30 million. 

Behind the new carrier is a firm called Zettfly Aviation, the chairman of which is Afi Ahmed, the owner of Smart Travels, a travel operator based in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). 

Air Kerala, which plans to operate under an ultra-low-cost business model, aims to launch in the first quarter of 2025. At first, the carrier aims to operate domestic regional flights within India connecting tier 2 and 3 cities to major airports with a fleet of three ATR-72 turboprop aircraft. 

Air Kerala’s main goal, though, is to eventually offer cheap flights between Kerala and South India and destinations in the Middle East, mostly in the UAE, where large Indian expat communities reside. 

According to UAE media, Ahmed said that during certain periods of the year air fares between the Middle East and Kerala rise dramatically offering an opportunity for new entrants to this market. Over two million people from Kerala live in the Middle East, half of which reside in the UAE. 

However, to be able to move onto the international stage, Air Kerala will need to comply with India’s regulations, which require any carrier to have been in business for a minimum of five years domestically and to operate a fleet of at least 20 aircraft. 

Authorities in Kerala have long toyed with the idea of launching an airline to serve the South Indian state. In 2006, Cochin International Airport (COK), Kerala’s main air gateway, even registered the Air Kerala brand. But the project gained no traction at the time and its launch was repeatedly postponed.  

Air Kerala’s founders are reportedly keen to work with the local and regional authorities in Kerala under a public-private partnership agreement to accelerate the project’s development. 

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