CEO Spotlight: Bhanu Choudhrie, Founder & Director of Alpha Aviation Group
Bhanu Choudhrie is the Founder and Director of Alpha Aviation Group Ltd., a rapidly growing subsidiary of his private equity firm C & C Alpha Group. Alpha Aviation Group is the premier global provider of pilot training for airlines, as well as the only flight school in the Philippines that’s ISO 9001:2015 accredited. Thanks to Choudhrie’s extensive experience investing in the hospitality, healthcare and real estate sectors, he has a unique talent for selecting aviation investments that are particularly promising for the future.
How did you get started in your business?
In 2003, we invested in the Indian low-budget airline Air Deccan. When we sold it to Kingfisher five years later, we were operating 200 flights a day and transporting 7 million passengers a year. Then, in 2006, we learned that another 637,000 pilots would be needed in the next 20 years, so we founded the Alpha Aviation Group. We consequently opened up pilot training centers in the Philippines and the United Arab Emirates to service the growing need for pilots in those regions. Our focus is on Southeast Asia because the rise of the middle class in this region is driving the demand for affordable air travel.
What are some of the advantages and disadvantages of your industry?
One major advantage is that the global economic expansion and the rise of the middle class in developing nations is driving demand for commercial aviation — not just in Asia, but also in Africa. As a result, fleets are expanding.
In terms of disadvantages, the demand for pilots for large commercial flights is challenging to solve because new pilots are required to have a certain amount of flying experience in smaller aircraft — and these positions don’t pay well. The investment in pilot training for commercial flights is around $150,000, while salaries for pilots for smaller carriers are around $20,000 annually. So it would be good to be able to balance out this difference somewhat.
Of all the accomplishments you’ve achieved at this point in your career, what are you most proud of?
It was an honor to win the 2008 “Asian Entrepreneur of the Year” award in the United Kingdom. It just goes to show that with hard work, you can achieve great things, even in a country in which you weren’t born or educated.
What are currently the fastest-growing trends in your industry?
I think it’s important to be aware of the economic growth of developing nations, especially in Asia. Over the next two or three decades, transporting people and products to and from these countries will require significant investments in aviation in these regions.
What are some opportunities and challenges that your industry is facing?
Due to the expansion of the middle class, there’s a growing demand for pilots in Southeast Asia, as previously noted. In addition, the aging of baby boomers in the United States means that approximately 30,000 pilots will retire in the upcoming years. This is a huge opportunity for Alpha Aviation and our training academies.
At the same time, we need to ensure that our pilots are trained to handle even the most challenging situations. That’s why we provide end-to-end solutions that offer top-of-the-line pilot training for every eventuality.
What inspires your vision and ideas toward your work?
We select the companies we invest in with care, and then we not only provide capitalization, but we also provide guidance to manage their growth and develop their market presence. In other words, we partner with them and offer management support, expertise, and international contacts.
Which factors contribute most to the success of your business?
We invest in strong management teams that are critical when it comes to implementing ideas. In addition, compared to the majority of other venture capital firms, we invest for longer periods of time. This enables us to nurture our investments, so they grow exponentially.
When it comes to Alpha Aviation Group, we make sure to hire highly qualified experts who design comprehensive programs that are implemented in our modern facilities with state-of-the-art equipment.
What are some of its biggest wins?
To date, we’ve been able to place over 350 pilots with airlines like Jet Airways, Air Arabia, Cebu Pacific, VietJet Air and Philippine Airlines. Moreover, the annual revenue of Alpha Aviation Group is almost $20 million.
Can you recall the most challenging moment during your time at your company?
Investing in Air Deccan early on was a risk. It was a low budget and not necessarily a money-maker. Fortunately, the rise of the middle class in India meant that people were looking for an affordable way to get to destinations that had up to that point been a two- or three-day train journey away. So, with the acquisition of Air Deccan, we were able to help drive the boom in aviation in India and open up the airline industry.
What did you learn from that experience?
For me, the takeaway was to trust myself and be patient if I’m convinced a specific sector will expand. If you don’t let current conditions drive your decisions, you can give your investment the time it needs to grow.
What are some ways in which you motivate others?
I’m a firm believer in philanthropic work, so I do my best to give back. I’m a director of Path to Success, a charity that helps children struggling with poverty, abuse, disabilities and access to education. Additionally, we sponsor the Emerging Markets Symposium that focuses on issues of human welfare in emerging countries.
What advice would you give to those within your industry?
My advice is to always respect the value of money as well as hard work. If you surround yourself with successful, hard-working people, you’ll discover new ideas and drive each other to new heights.