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HomeNewsAsiaNaresh Goyal: The Man Behind Jet Airways' Success and Failure

Naresh Goyal: The Man Behind Jet Airways’ Success and Failure

As the founder and former chairman of Jet Airways, Naresh Goyal built India’s most successful private airline. Under your leadership, Jet Airways grew rapidly to become India’s largest carrier by passenger traffic. For over 25 years, you navigated the ups and downs of the volatile airline industry and competition from low-cost carriers. However, high fuel prices, a weak rupee, and debt repayments ultimately proved too much for Jet Airways. In 2019, the airline suspended operations after failing to secure emergency funding, marking the end of an era in Indian aviation that you had pioneered. Your story is one of entrepreneurial ambition, risk-taking, and perseverance in the face of difficulties – followed by loss of control and collapse. This is the tale of how Naresh Goyal built up and then brought down Jet Airways.

Naresh Goyal’s Early Years and the Founding of Jet Airways

Naresh Goyal grew up in a business family in Punjab, India. His father owned a travel agency, exposing Goyal to the aviation industry from an early age. After earning a commerce degree, Goyal joined his father’s business in 1967. For over a decade, he gained valuable experience in travel and tourism.

In the early 1980s, India’s government deregulated the aviation industry. Goyal saw an opportunity and founded Jet Airways in 1993 to provide quality air travel for middle-class Indians. Through smart business deals and marketing, Jet Airways took off and became India’s second-largest airline.

To fund expansion, Goyal took out substantial loans and sold company shares. He maintained majority control but faced growing debt obligations. Still, under Goyal’s leadership, Jet Airways introduced new routes, added modern aircraft, and won several service awards – cementing its status as a world-class airline.

However, rising fuel prices, fare wars, and economic woes in the late 2010s strained Jet Airways’ finances. Goyal’s tight control and reluctance to restructure made the crisis worse. In 2019, Jet Airways collapsed under its debt load of over $1 billion, shutting down operations permanently. The fall of Jet Airways, once a source of pride, serves as a cautionary tale of how poor decision making and unwillingness to change with the times can lead to the downfall of even the most promising of enterprises.

Goyal’s story is one of tremendous success and failure, highlighting how far vision and determination can take you, but also how critical good governance and adaptability are to long term viability. His legacy lives on in the imprint he left on India’s aviation landscape.

Jet Airways’ Expansion and Success Under Goyal’s Leadership

Under your leadership as Chairman and Managing Director, Jet Airways experienced over two decades of success and growth to become India’s premier international airline.

From its launch in 1993, Jet Airways rapidly expanded its fleet and route network. By 2004, Jet Airways operated over 300 daily flights to 43 destinations across India and internationally. This expansion was enabled by strategic alliances with airlines including Delta, KLM, and American Airlines. These alliances allowed Jet Airways to offer passengers greater connectivity and access to an expanded global network.

Jet Airways was also the first private Indian airline to obtain permission to fly overseas, launching international flights to Sri Lanka in 2004. Routes to London, Singapore, and Bangkok followed shortly after. The airline’s international expansion was a pivotal moment, as it allowed Indian travelers greater access to global destinations and helped establish India as an aviation hub.

Under your skilled management, Jet Airways garnered numerous accolades recognizing its excellence in service, safety, and innovation. The airline won Skytrax’s ‘Best Airline in Central Asia and India’ award multiple times, and you yourself were named ‘Businessman of the Year’ by Forbes India in 2011, a testament to your successful leadership of Jet Airways.

Through your vision, passion, and perseverance, you built Jet Airways into a world-class airline that connected India to the world. For over 25 years, Jet Airways fueled India’s rapid economic growth and brought the country to the global stage. Your indelible impact on Indian aviation will not soon be forgotten.

Financial Troubles and Goyal’s Eventual Ouster From Jet Airways

By 2019, Jet Airways was saddled with over $1.2 billion in debt and on the brink of collapse. Goyal’s mismanagement and reckless expansion plans had finally caught up to the airline. His tight control and unwillingness to cede authority were directly responsible for the downfall of Jet Airways.

Financial Troubles Mount

For years, Goyal rejected advice to raise funds through an IPO and equity sale that would have eased Jet Airways’ debt burden. His desire to maintain control led him to take on excessive debt and make poor business decisions. High fuel prices and fare wars with low-cost competitors squeezed profit margins, making it impossible for Jet Airways to service its massive debt.

Bungled Etihad Partnership

In 2013, Goyal struck a deal for Etihad Airways to acquire a 24% stake in Jet Airways, infusing $600 million in capital. However, Goyal’s reluctance to give up control and allow Etihad to obtain a larger stake and board seats doomed the partnership. Etihad was unable to push through changes to stem Jet Airways’ losses and eventually backed out, leaving Goyal scrambling for new investors.

Forced to Step Down

With lenders circling and grounding aircraft for lack of payment, Goyal was forced out as Chairman in March 2019. Lenders seized control and Goyal was resigned to a ceremonial role to help find a buyer, but his reputation and hubris made a sale challenging. Goyal’s departure came too late, and Jet Airways suspended operations in April 2019 after 26 years in service, a cautionary tale of how an airline founder’s unwillingness to adapt led to the demise of India’s oldest private airline.

In the end, Goyal’s unwillingness to accept responsibility for Jet Airways’ financial troubles and cede control to more experienced management and investors sealed the fate of his airline. His story serves as a warning for business leaders that ego and sentiment cannot overcome poor business practices. Adaptability and prudent decision making are required to navigate an increasingly competitive global market.


As you reflect on the remarkable journey of Naresh Goyal and Jet Airways, there are many lessons to take away. Goyal’s vision and perseverance built an airline that connected India in an unprecedented way. However, his unwillingness to delegate control and adapt to industry changes ultimately led to the downfall of the airline he spent over 25 years building. While the collapse of Jet Airways is a sad ending to an iconic Indian company, Goyal’s ambition and entrepreneurial spirit live on as an inspiration. The story of Jet Airways will be remembered as a cautionary tale of how success can breed stubbornness and an unwillingness to change.