Flying High

Invision Air Phenom 100

The hassles that come with flying are many but if you think you need a colossal bank balance to fly in a personal jet to bypass these, you’re wrong. Read on

Standing in snaky queues, getting frisked, waiting endlessly for delayed flights, stressing about flights getting cancelled or diverted, and, to top it all, worrying about having a wailing baby or terrible food while in transit. The hassles that come with flying are many but if you think that you need to be an Ambani or a Mittal to fly in a personal jet to bypass these, you’re wrong. There are high-end jets-on-hire to take you to your vacation destination or help you make it to that friend’s wedding in Bali. Some might say this is an opulence too expensive to splurge your hard-earned money on, but reply is that by doing this, you can tick off one more thing on that bucket list. Immortal as we may seem today, we do not have forever to live and spend that hoarded money, do we?

Some of the jets-for-hire available from these companies can fly as far as London and Beijing without needing to refuel. Top players in this niche industry include Tata Group’s Taj Air Ltd., Bangalore-based Deccan Charters which has been around since the 1990s, Club One Air, and Religare Group’s Religare Voyages Ltd. which was founded in 2006.

Taj Air offers a Delhi-Agra-Delhi flight for ` 5 lakh for a Hawker 850XP aircraft that can seat eight people and carry up to 25kgs of baggage per person. For a Pilatus PC 12 with a nine-passenger capacity and 10kgs of baggage per person, the bill runs up to around ` 2 lakh.

“Charter flights with Taj Air offer safety, comfort and convenience to corporate fliers,” says Atiesh Mishra, GM Operations, Taj Air. “For tourists, we offer connections to popular destinations like Goa, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.”

Corporate charters are a business tool to travel anonymously, and to access multiple destinations for business meetings, thereby saving time and improving productivity. Business houses that own aircraft also own Charter Licenses, and generally use their aircraft for the benefit of business executives, tells us Navin Peters, safety officer at Ashley Aviation, a company that operates jets owned by the Hinduja Group.

Invision Air, founded by Vinit Phatak in 2008, considers itself to be a representation of ‘the fine art of business travel’ and promises connectivity to 200 destinations across India. The company has introduced The Jet Card Membership Program for those who plan on using the private aircraft for up to 25-30 trips a year. It has three different levels depending on how much you intend to travel: Silver (25 hours a year), Gold (50 hours a year), and Platinum (100 hours a year). Being a member gets you added benefits like last-minute booking, better pricing, transferability, and access priority. The cards range from `1,20,000 per hour (exclusive of taxes, mind you) to `1,35,000. For the rest, the hefty price tag works up to`1,50,000 per hour. “We had a high level of interest and response when the membership programmes were first introduced last year,” says Phatak. “Today several clients have already renewed their memberships and more new people are in the pipeline to sign up every month.”

Currently, the general opinion is that India’s business aviation sector is not exploiting its potential due to a lack of aviation infrastructure, stringent government regulations, long procedures for aircraft imports, and strict bank regulations. Kapil Kaul, CEO South Asia, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, explained in a press communique, “After almost eight years of continuous monitoring of the Indian aviation sector, it became apparent to us that despite the fact that the GA (general aviation) fleet is already significant in size with 680 aircraft, little is known about it. Our initial enquiries found that fleet and traffic data was limited and unreliable, only a handful of operators reported financials and grey areas abounded. The fact that the sector is highly fragmented, unstructured and under-funded means that it has remained under the radar.”

According to the Ministry of Civil Aviation (Strategy Plan 2010-15), a study shall be conducted through experts to develop a vision and roadmap for the growth of aviation, putting it at par with benchmark nations. Plans are also afoot to introduce Sea Plane operations in the island and coastal areas for promotion of tourism and transport.

As the business jet industry awaits the resolution of many contentious issues by the authorities, they would like to see the day when the aviation policymakers see business aviation as a powerful business tool rather than a toy for the rich and famous.

With the introduction of his Learjet 23 in 1964, Bill Lear revolutionised the private jet market. Today, corporate chief executives and wealthy travellers routinely fly in style on custom jet aircraft. While some mix business and pleasure, its growth over the years underlines its utility as a business tool.

India became the second-largest business jet market in the Asia-Pacific region last year with a fleet of 165 and has grown more than six times in the past seven years, next only to China with 220 aircraft. As per the Business Aviation Association of India, there are 680 business aviation aircraft including private jets, helicopters, turboprops and piston engines, and this number is expected to reach 2,000 by 2020. A Bombardier Market Forecast reveals that the Indian business jet fleet is expected to rise at an annual growth rate of 13% over the next 10 years, and will account for 440 aircraft in 2019.

However, jets do not come cheap and costs can depend on the number of passengers they can carry and the distance they can travel. The more popular makers and models include Learjet, Boeing Business Jet, Cessna, Gulfstream and Dassault Falcon. Indian aerospace major, Mahindra Aerospace, GippsAero and Aerostaff Australia have teamed up to manufacture the GA8 TC-320 Airvan and have built a new aerostructures manufactuing facility, reveals Arvind Mehra, executive director and CEO at Mahindra Aerospace.

Buying a jet makes economic sense for those who fly over 400 hours a year. For others, there are the air charter services. Says Nilesh Pattanayak, regional vice president of sales, Bombardier Aerospace, Asia-Pacific. “As the economy grows and the need for corporate travel increases in the region, the value of a business jet is set to be well-established.”

Though the Indian aviation market is still tamer compared to the international ones—what with jacuzzis, pool tables and video game consoles housed in jets—the options out here are only set to get more glamorous. Fasten your seatbelts, we’re ready for take-off.

Flying High

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