Private jets, flying lessons in demand as pandemic wanes


NEW DELHI : The super rich, including corporate executives are travelling by private jets and taking flying lessons for both leisure and business, aviation insiders said, putting down the trend to a post-pandemic travel pivot.“Present demand is about 25-30% above pre-covid level,” Rajesh Bali, Managing Director of Business Aircraft Operators Association said.

“HNIs (high net-worth individuals) are looking at long-range and ultra-long-range business jets and others are looking at medium-range aircraft so there is renewed interest in this segment from people who may not be HNIs but who have business requirement to travel by air.”

There is also high interest among salaried employees in private helicopters for pilgrimage and related purposes where they are ready to pay up to 1.5 lakh each for a 2-3 day tour in a five-seater helicopter, Bali said.

The fleet size of non-scheduled jets is estimated to be around 550 in India with the potential to grow at 10% per year. Demand shot up in the last three years as the wealthy looked to travel exclusively in a sanitised environment without covid-related restrictions.

As of 2015, the Business Aircraft Operators Association estimated, the total fleet size of business jets in India stood at around 487, which would mean a 13% growth over the last eight years. “Covid brought a lot of change in private aviation, where traffic increased by around 200%. Secondly, everyone wanted to buy an aircraft, and the prices shot up by 30%. As on date, the inventory worldwide for a pre-owned aircraft is basically zero. Today, if I have an aircraft for sale, there are 20 buyers lining up. Pre-covid, it was other way round. Today, I just have to list it, and it will be picked up immediately. Because everyone wants to be in their own refined sanitized place,” Arun Lohiya, chief executive officer of flying club Club 1712 said.

Lohiya is confident about the business case for a flying club in India. Club 1712 is a division of CAD Ventures, a sister concern of Ahmedabad-based Cadila Pharmaceuticals. With an investment of 32 crore, Club 1712 is expected to commence operations with five 4-seater Cessna 172 jets by April and will provide a 50-hour training at 45 lakh each to aviation enthusiasts who want a private pilot licence and want to fly on their own for business or for leisure.

Club 1712 has identified bases for its aircraft depending on the clientele to train them at air strips closest to their residence. It aims to have aircraft based in Mehsana for Gujarat, Baramati and Nashik for Maharashtra, Hisar and Aligarh for Delhi NCR, Jakkur for Bengaluru, and Salem for Chennai.

“Over the last month, I have received calls from people who are 45-plus who are well-settled, already done with 2-3 startups, multiple rounds of fundings, and they are coming ahead to take up flying as a hobby. They are saying they couldn’t do this earlier due to family circumstances at the right age. Second, there is also a segment who find air travel very relaxing. We already have confirmations from 11 people; they range from the age bracket from 25-35 years to over 45 years,” Lohiya said. While the demand for private jets for charters is still robust, especially during the peak season of Nov-Jan, there has been a slow slide on the acquisition side for private jets since mid-November, Vinit Phatak, private aviation veteran and president of business jets company ACASS India said. As a result, the industry is looking at a fractional ownership model, which was announced by the civil aviation ministry in October. Fractional ownership aims to lower the cost of acquisition of helicopters and aeroplanes through pooled capital by multiple owners.

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