Why this flight attendant became an entrepreneur and started an aviation and hospitality institute
In 2005, Piyalee Chatterjee Ghosh landed her dream job as a flight attendant. Her only plan then was to ace her job and seek promotions in international airlines. Entrepreneurship was not on her mind until she became part of the training department and identified a gap between industry requirements of the aviation and hospitality sectors, and the education system.
“As a trainer, I felt that the existing education system does not provide all-round skills and knowledge needed for the industry. Many newcomers did not know the basics and history of aviation and geography,” she tells HerStory.
After working in the industry for a decade, Piyalee startedand Hospitality in 2015. The idea, she says, is not to merely help students pass interview rounds but to equip them with skills to sustain in the long term.
Starting up and scaling
Piyalee and her team underwent the government’s Skill India Mission training for the aviation and aerospace sector.
Based in Bengaluru, the institute has trained more than 3,000 students in service sector courses like aviation and hospitality, pilot training, hotel management, aircraft maintenance engineering, and event management. The courses are priced between Rs 20,000 and Rs 1,85,000.
It has partnered with several flying clubs in South Africa and the US for pilot training and TATA TISS to fine-tune its hotel management studies.
The entrepreneur claims that all the courses are internationally recognised through the International Accreditation Forum (IAF) and Dubai Accreditation Centre (DAC).
Started with an initial investment of Rs 10 lakh from MG Road in Bengaluru, the institute now has 11 centres across metros, and Tier I and II cities like Mumbai, Bhopal, Lucknow, Guwahati, Raipur, and Mangaluru. Some of the centres are operated on a franchise basis.
Piyalee’s strong network in the aviation industry helped in boosting placement opportunities for the students, many of whom landed jobs in Air Asia, Jet Airways, SpiceJet, Air India, Indigo, Qatar Airways, Singapore Airlines, ITC Hotels, and Taj Hotels.
Started with an initial investment of Rs 10 lakh, Fledge Institue of Aviation and Hospitality clocked Rs 7 crore in revenue in the first three years of operation.
Hailing from a family of lawyers and teachers, the 32-year-old is a first-generation entrepreneur and felt that the education system does not equip one to face the challenges that come with entrepreneurship.
“Beyond delivering promises to customers, you need to build good rapport with the society as our students hail from various backgrounds,” she says.
Having adjusted to major economic changes like demonetisation and GST, she realised that reskilling and relearning play a key role in sustaining her business. Financial literacy needs to be inculcated as part of our education system,” she adds.
After running operations smoothly for the first three years and clocking total revenues of Rs 7 crore, the team is now restructuring to deal with impacts of COVID-19. She says the revenue is down at present.
Adapting to the new normal
Despite having physical learning centres, Piyalee, who is also the Head of Product, happened to venture into online learning a year-and-a-half ago.
Most of the students, aged between 18 and 25, took more interest in videos on Facebook and YouTube and were not keen on learning from textbooks, especially since COVID-19 broke out in India. To match steps with the younger generation, she started packaging lessons into videos.
The institute is working with Tata Consultancy Services iON Digital Learning for content development.
Piyalee says, “COVID-19 has been a catalyst to all in the education sector. It has done what demonetisation did to fintech. The government has also come forward to support online education.”
Moving ahead, she says that education should thrive on a blended model of text-based learning and practical learning. The pandemic presents an opportunity to reach more geographies where they don’t have a presence yet.
International students, especially those from Maldives, Afghanistan, and African countries have shown interest in their courses. She says enabling competent digital learning platforms will reduce their cost of travel and accommodation. Piyalee adds that telecommunication companies should also work on improving digital infrastructure in remote areas.
However, the entrepreneur is having a tough time convincing the parents to admit their children for online courses and opt for gap year due to the pandemic. “A lot of efforts go in convincing them that online is the future and we should pursue this evolving model of education,” she says.
Self-funded so far, the institute plans to ramp up digital content and is looking to raise funds for the same.