Vijay Mallya in talks with European firm for business jets

June 1st, 2008 - 3:04 pm ICT by admin  

By Neelam Mathews
Berlin, June 1 (IANS) Vijay Mallya’s UB Group, the spirits-to-airline major, has initiated talks with France-based EADS Socata, a leading aircraft manufacturer, to invest some $200 million to co-develop business jets for which India has now emerged as a hot market. “We want to look at a global organisation that has service centres in place with tools to market in the country,” EADS Socata spokesman Phillipe de Segovia told IANS, confirming that the group was in talks with the UB Group and other Indian companies.

“We had earlier started talks with IndUS Aviation, an Indian-American aircraft maker with headquarters in Dallas, Texas, and Bangalore, three years ago,” de Segovia said, adding that the talks did not progress.

A phone inquiry to Vijay Mallya was replied with a monosyllabic “no comment”.

At the US National Business Aviation Association’s annual meeting and convention in Atlanta last September, Mallya had pledged a personal stake of $200 million to the US-based Epic Aircraft to develop its very light jets.

He said these jets would be would be manufactured and promoted for India and the Middle East markets. Now, however, the deal between Epic Aircraft and Mallya is believed to be over.

Airbus, chosen by Mallya to be the consultant for a review on Epic and also to help speed up the certification of its new aircraft, has now involved him in the new jet being developed by EADS Socata.

The company, which is not new to India, is a wholly owned subsidiary of the EADS Group, which also includes Airbus Industrie.

EADS Socata, which manufactures the single-engine turboprop TBM 850, would largely compete with the Epic Dynasty, slated for certification late this year. It has sold 14 aircraft to the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan Academy.

India has 179 aircraft registered for private, corporate and charter purposes, which include business jets, turboprop aircraft and helicopters.

Under 10,000 lb in weight and costing under $2 million apiece, a very light jet such as the TBM 850 has fuel-efficient engines, is commanded by a single pilot and has a capacity of four-six passengers.

Smaller versions can take off from 3,000-ft runways and these aircraft cruise at an average of around 425 miles per hour using smaller airports to facilitate the business traveller to taxi them from point-to-point.

Socata is planning its latest product launch next year - a twin-engine business aircraft and larger than the six-seat TBM 850 turboprop , officials of the aircraft manufacturer said.

Kingfisher Airlines, which Mallya owns, is a diehard customer of Airbus and its entire fleet comprises aircraft manufactured by the French consortium with firm orders for 42 more, including five mammoth A-380s.

Airline industry officials, who were at the Berlin air show last week, said that the booming Indian economy and poor airport infrastructure made the market quite lucrative for private jets since these are also affordable in the long run.

In fact, that was also the main reason why IndUS Aviation founder Ram Pattisapu wanted to add business aircraft marketing to the group’s activities and address the growing need for ground transportation system in India.

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