Sachit Wadhwa had been grappling with an unprecedented problem: How to deliver a dozen private jets within a year.
Wadhwa, the co-founder of 10-year-old, Mumbai-based private charter company BookMyCharters, said he’d never before had an order book that tops two private jets per year. But by the end of 2021 India’s private aviation sector was booming as wealthy Indians skipped commercial flights and opted for private flying amid the Covid pandemic. No matter how he tried, Wadhwa struggled to meet demand for private aircraft.
“Close to 60% of our new buyers previously only chartered flights,” said Wadhwa. “Buyers and charterers are finding it increasingly difficult to get planes.”
Private jet operators and charter brokers – who secure aircraft and then rent them out to private customers – said that after a multi-year slump, flying by rented aircraft was soaring.
For airlines in India demand for different types of private charter flights had shot up by 75% to 200% in December 2021 since October 2020, after India reopened following a strict, six-month-long Covid lockdown, says Wadhwa.
The upturn followed a decade-long stagnation. India’s current fleet of 515 private aircraft, including 257 fixed-wing planes and 258 helicopters, had jumped 25% in size in the 14 months since October 2020, said one industry source.
This figure included private aircraft purchased by billionaires, other individuals and the corporate sector.
‘Private flights are healthier’
The demand for private jets and charters was fuelled largely by the country’s struggle to cope with the pandemic.
“The good news for private charter operators is that if the Covid pandemic highlighted anything, it is just how much safer and healthier it is to fly private,” says Rajan Mehra, CEO of Club One Air, a Mumbai-based charter company.
According to Mehra, the former head of Qatar Airways in India, passengers wanted to avoid the crowds of terminal buildings and prefer the spaces available to them in private terminals, Mehra said.
The post-Covid resurgence of India’s economy also played a role in the demand for private plane rental.
“Business aviation or the use of private planes and helicopters by companies is rebounding as economic recovery shows signs of being sustainable,” said Mehra. “Companies both large and small are resuming talks with jet manufacturers for placing orders.”
Private Jet Rental and Purchases
The spike had been driven significantly by first-time private jet flyers. Prior to the pandemic, the ultra-rich utilised private flying primarily for short-distance domestic travel or emergency flights. But, as safety concerns emerged “these travellers evolved from occasional private flyers to those who travel private full-time,” says Wadhwa.
His own booking requests from first-time private flyers had risen more than nine-fold in 2021.
While the Director General of Civil Aviation doesn’t maintain a record of private flights, private charter companies say India is already emerging as a market too big to ignore.
While the Director General of Civil Aviation doesn’t maintain a record of private flights, private operators say India is already emerging as a market too big to ignore.
“Although private aviation is still puny – estimated to be less than 1% of the global private aviation market – it is not a market one can stay away from,” said Ahmed Shajeer, founder of Dubai-based JetzHub, an aviation service provider. “The business opportunities in the segment are immense going forward.”
Foreign Investment in India Airlines
Increased government backing points to a bright future for the aviation sector. India is expanding its aviation infrastructure “unprecedentedly,” according to Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
For instance, the civil aviation minister launched an ambitious 100-day plan in September 2021 to “operationalise” five new airports, six heliports, and 50 new routes under the regional connectivity UDAN initiative.
“The new general aviation terminal at the Delhi airport, which opened this year, is one example of the tremendous difference for customers flying private because there are no lines, minimal interaction with others, and a very short distance to cover before reaching the aircraft,” said Mehra.
- By Indrajit Basu