Air HK 'enigma' Parashar speaks out on power behind his success

AIR Hongkong's controversial president, Captain Pran Parashar, ''went public'' for the first time this week when he spoke to the monthly luncheon meeting of the Hongkong International Aerospace Forum. It was quite a debut.

''I am considered quite an enigma in both the media and the industry,'' said the chief troubleshooter of Air HK, under chairman Stanley Ho.

The 69-year-old captain had lunch guests buzzing from the moment he stood up and asked them to say a prayer for the survival of the financially troubled airline, a repeat of his first meeting with the Air HK staff last May after a boardroom shake-up by Mr Ho.

Forum chairman Martin Craigs - who later described Capt Parashar's speech as the most passionate and colourful in the five-year history of the forum - announced that the guest speaker was to address the subject of opportunities and obstacles in air freight.

Capt Parashar turned this on its head when he said: ''I rely entirely on divine intervention, I know nothing at all about commercial aviation.'' Then Capt Parashar, also head of Mr Ho's High Speed Ferry company, gave local aviation industry executives an insight into his past.

He was in the Indian Navy until his retirement in 1974. He joined as a marine and general cadet in 1941, then in 1943 he went to the Royal Naval College at Dartmouth where he studied in the executive branch.

After serving in the war, he returned to India in 1947 and became naval aide-de-camp to the last viceroy, Lord Mountbatten.

''One day Mountbatten told me India was acquiring an aircraft carrier and he thought I should train as a pilot,'' he said.

Capt Parashar trained as a fighter pilot but later flew various aircraft, including helicopters.

He admitted that his work at Air HK was far removed from his navy days. But for the last 18 years, it is said, he has worked miracles as a troubleshooter for Mr Ho.

''I am not being paid, I am doing it out of loyalty for Mr Ho,'' said the captain. ''I asked him [Mr Ho] why he persevered with loss-making companies and he said money should not be the only criteria, people and families had to be considered.'' Capt Parashar has criticised the Government for not giving enough support to the 100 per cent Hongkong-owned airline and Cathay Pacific.

Despite the shadow hanging over Air HK, Capt Parashar said this week that he thought the airline would be around long after Cathay Pacific had disappeared.

He made no secret of the fact that Air HK faced an uphill struggle and said, looking to the heavens, that everything rested ''with the great man up there''.

Some might say Capt Parashar lacked realism when he said: ''If He has given me the aircraft, He will give me the cargo to put in them.'' But his supporters point to his proven track record.

Capt Parashar said that Air HK would have five 747-200s by the end of the year. The airline currently has three 747s. This is not a boardroom decision: the president said God had told him.

However, He could be over-ruled next month when Mr Ho rules on the future of the airline.

THE Hongkong International Aerospace Forum is to hold an ''airport forum'' in November, according to chairman Martin Craigs.

The Provisional Airport Authority has expressed an interest in taking part, as has Hongkong's director of aviation, Mr Peter Lok. Representatives of the Macau and Shenzhen airports have also been asked to take part.

The forum is expected to last for half a day.

CATHAY Pacific has gone bargain-hunting after announcing late last year that it was to defer options on two B747-400s that were due for delivery next year.

It opted not to spend US$150 million each on the 747s, instead investing US$6 million on a secondhand TriStar previously owned by British Airways subsidiary Caledonian.

Cathay last bought secondhand TriStars from the US' Eastern Airlines for US$8 million. Eastern was being wound up after going bankrupt.

A source said Cathay had then paid as much again for maintenance before the aircraft were put into service.