London, July 9: Surinder Arora, one of Britain's most successful Indian entrepreneurs, has put in a bid to build a new runway and terminal at Heathrow which he has said will be £6.7 billion (Rs 55,600 crore) cheaper than the £17.5 billion (Rs 1.45 lakh crore) project envisaged by the company which owns the country's main airport.
Asked by The Telegraph whether he was confident of delivering on such an ambitious plan, Arora responded: "I am more than confident -I have taken on Bechtel (the largest construction and civil engineering company in the US) and an impressive array of advisers. I have spent tons of money on this project. If I was not confident of doing this, why would I take this on?"
Judging by his record in the hotel industry, Arora has to be considered a serious player, now that the government has more or less decided that extra capacity has to be built for the 21st century with a third runway at Heathrow.
Arora says he can do the job much better and cheaper than Heathrow Airport Limited, which he accuses of wanting a "monopoly". Arora's main argument is that competition is good for the passenger and for the airlines - and in drawing up his plans, he has consulted the world's top carriers.
Willie Walsh, chief executive of British Airways' owner IAG, welcomed Arora's proposals. "The government should look closely at Arora's proposal as it would significantly reduce costs," Walsh said. British Airways is Heathrow's biggest customer.
The department for transport has estimated a new runway at Heathrow would bring economic benefits to passengers and the wider economy worth up to £61bn, and create as many as 77,000 additional local jobs over the next 14 years.
The question is who gets to build the new runway and terminal? The BBC last night broke the story that Arora had put in a bid - and this was confirmed today by the man.
Arora, who was born on September 22, 1958, in Sultanpur near Jalandhar in Punjab, came to Britain in 1972 as a self-confessed unruly teenager and began his career by working as a waiter in a hotel that he subsequently bought. He is today the suave chairman of the Arora Group he founded in 1979.
The number of hotels he currently owns is 15, with a capacity of 6,000 bedrooms. "There are three more under construction," he said. "Once these open, we will have 7,000 bedrooms." "The Arora Group really has three main businesses - Arora Hotels are only third of our business," he explained. "Another third is real estate and the final third is development."
"We do a lot of our developments for ourselves and certainly after the three airport owners - Heathrow, Gatwick and Stansted - I guess we are probably the next largest landowner, (with) land, offices, car parks, buildings around the airports. So we have quite a decent size property portfolio."
Surinder is a familiar figure in trade journals, such as The Caterer which last year summed up: "Arora Group's current portfolio includes the InterContinental London - The O2; Sofitel London Heathrow; Sofitel London Gatwick; Renaissance London Heathrow; Holiday Inn Heathrow -Terminal 5; Arora Hotel Gatwick/ Crawley; and Savill Court Hotel and Spa, near Windsor. The first five are operated under franchise agreements with InterContinental Hotels Group, AccorHotels and Marriott International."
"Total hotel turnover for 2015 was £97m," The Caterer reported. "Grove Developments, a construction arm of the Arora Group, was launched in 2011 to undertake internal and external hotel building projects."
Surinder keeps a pair of binoculars in his office, which overlooks the northern runway at Heathrow. This allows him to watch planes landing all day long, plus seemingly business opportunities in the future as well.
He can provide a running commentary from his vantage point: "Where that Virgin plane is just going.....behind that Virgin plane you have got the radar, and behind the radar you have got the other building -that's the new Premier Inn that we are building".
A few minutes later: "On the right hand side over those United planes can you see the crane? That's right in front of Terminal 4, we're building 750 bedrooms which would be the 450-bedroom Holiday Inn Express and the 300-bedroom Crowne Plaza. And then here at Terminal 2, if you see that chimney over there, we are building a 320-bedroom new hotel inside the airport.... that will come up next year ....it will be tallest building inside the airport after the control tower. So, that's when I hopefully will move my office there."
And so on. He seems to be monarch of all he surveys.
Surinder and his wife Sunita, to whom he has been married for 34 years, have two daughters, Sapna, 32, and Sonia, 31, and a son, Sanjay, 27.
"Sonia is married to Jasminder's son," said Surinder, referring to Jasminder Singh, chairman of Edwardian Hotels London, whose son, Inderneel, is managing director of the family's flagship May Fair Hotel.
Surinder is close friends with the India-born pop star Sir Cliff Richard - "Cliff is like a brother" - whom he accompanied on a trip to Lucknow. "He loves India."