Sky high! Private jets taking off in India

March 21st, 2008 - 11:45 am ICT by admin  

By Varada Bhat
Mumbai, March 21 (IANS) After Maybachs and RollsRoyces, the swish set in India is now displaying a fondness for luxury flying machines even if it means shelling out an astounding $80 million to buy one! In the past one month, sensing a big business opportunity, three international business jet firms have entered India to tap the fast-growing market in the country.

US-based Aerion, which is developing a high-end supersonic business jet (SSBJ), has received pre-delivery orders from five Indian customers. The deliveries are to begin from the last quarter of 2014.

“There is a lot of logic in having a supersonic business jet product in India with the young generation of wealthy entrepreneurs building global empires,” said Peter Smales, executive director of Zurich-based Execujet, which is distributing the SSBJ outside North America.

According to Smales, the carrier would have an estimated launch price tag of $80 million (Rs.3.2 billion) each and the Mumbai-Singapore trip would take only three hours as compared to five hours by normal jets.

Although the company refuses to divulge the names of customers, it has already laid down plans to open a sales office in India by the end of this year in anticipation of more business.

Graeme Weston, director of sales of Warren Buffets-promoted NetJets, told IANS: “In India, wealth creation is taking place at a phenomenal pace. We have a potential of over 5,000 customers in India. We will offer business jet services to Indian business men and women looking to travel abroad.”

According to an executive from a private jet company, not just the Ambanis and Mallyas, but also many businessmen from Tier II and III towns are enthusiastically looking at these planes.

For instance, Bellary, the mining town in Karnataka, already boasts of a few private helicopter owners.

“To block a light weight jet like Hawker 400XP and Cessna Citation for 25 hours of flying time, the cost would be around $200,000 (Rs.8 million), a sum which is within the reach of many individuals in India,” said Ashish Chordia, CEO of Shreyans, a retail outlet selling luxury brands.

Shreyans represents brands such as Porsche, Fendi and Van Cleef in India.

An aviation analyst feels under the fractional ownership models, customers only pay to use a fixed number of flight hours each year, while companies like BJETS, NetJets and Club One Air maintain the aircraft and provide pilots and flight crew.

Robert Dranitzke, director of marketing for NetJets Europe, said every four days an Indian is flying in a NetJets flight. A Gulfstream G550 seats 14 passengers, and, with two bathrooms, is roomier than some apartments.

“It is not hard to see the appeal of travelling by private jet. They are like a business tool because meetings can be held while travelling. Telephones - both onboard handsets and mobiles - work, as do internet connections,” Dranitzke said.

Tata Group’s Indian Hotels recently bought a stake in Singapore-based Briley Group’s BJETS, which also offers fractional ownership in private jets in India and Southeast Asia.

The venture has ordered 50 jets worth more than $600 million during the recently held Singaopre Airshow. Club One Air CEO Manav Singh had also made ripples at the Singapore air show with orders of 10 Eclipse 500 Very Light Jets (VLJs).

With India’s annual economic growth crossing eight percent and India being placed fourth in the number of Forbes’ list of world’s billionaires with 53 billionaires, the country demonstrates higher growth potential than the US and China.

However, there is no exact figure for business jets in India. The Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation estimates that there are about 180 aircraft registered for private, corporate and charter purposes. That includes business jets, turboprop aircraft and helicopters.

While India’s commercial airports are notoriously overcrowded, business jets can take advantage of a strong network of airports or defence airstrips that date back to the British colonial era.

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