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How COVID-19 has given private air charter business a major boost

The Xennial
·4-min read
Private aircraft
Photo courtesy: JetSetGo

India's first private jet terminal opened at New Delhi's Indira Gandhi International Airport last week signalling the growth in demand for private chartered jets. With the pandemic hitting the travel industry, the interest in flying private among the HNIs is said to be on the rise.

Yahoo Style India speaks with Kanika Tekriwal of JetSetGo and Santosh Sharma of Foresee Aviation to know more.

The global pandemic caused by COVID-19 may have driven the world economy to the ground but this isn’t the case with all sectors. While the aviation sector has seen an unprecedented crash, the private air charter segment within it seems to be booming. By all estimates, the demand has grown manifold and more HNIs seem to be opting to fly private than commercial.

“Before the onset of coronavirus, we used receive anywhere between 30 and 40 requests per day for charter flight bookings,” says Kanika Tekriwal, CEO of JetSetGo. “Now that demand has grown 9-fold.

Santosh Sharma, CEO of Foresee Aviation has been seeing a similar trend in his company too. “The number of queries have gone up from 10-15 to 28-30,” he says.

The initial requests for JetSetGo came in the form of evacuation flights, Tekriwal says: “Once the lockdown was lifted, people started reaching out to us because they knew charters were the safes option available to them to return home. As a result 70 per cent of our requests were from first-time flyers.”

However now, nearly five months after the national lockdown was partially lifted, a new trend is emerging. Both Tekriwal and Sharma say that leisure travel has been a major reason for passengers chartering their aircraft. “These requests came primarily from solo travellers or people who wanted to travel in large groups of known people (like family or friends). We flew ten flights for our leisure travel requests,” Tekriwal says. In an industry as niche as private aviation, this is a huge number.

While private aircraft were considered a matter of luxury earlier, the pandemic has changed that perception to some extent. While chartering an aircraft is still restricted to the HNIs, that number has seen a spike over the last few months. For most part it is due to the need for social distancing and hygiene.

“Private charters provide safety in isolation and you get to choose the people you want to travel with,” Sharma says. “Moreover, charter planes could travel long-distances with no or fewer stops, limiting human interaction and exposure.”

Tekriwal agrees but adds that there are other advantages too.

“Chartering a private jet allows you to fly at your own convenience, at a time that suits you best. You don’t have to arrive early neither do have to undertake lengthy check-in processes nor security lines at the airport. Charters give an option to skip layovers and reach directly to the destination if the circumstances permit etc,” she says.

Of course, if you’re flying solo, it will cost you significantly more but if you’re travelling in a right sized group, your private aircraft fare would likely be just a tad more expensive than your first class fare. Some estimates suggest that the difference between a first class ticket and a private jet fare with a group of people could be as little as Rs 7,000 per hour. All you’d have to do is find a bunch of people in your city flying out to the same destination, which is one of the reasons why nearly 50 per cent of private air travel recently is for leisure since its easier to find such a group.

“We have been getting innumerable queries from people wanting to go to any place safe and to a tourist destination also for one way trips to Goa, Dubai, London etc for families to permanently move base for a few months,” Tekriwal says.

While this seems like a great time to be in the private aviation business, it remains to be seen if this is just a temporary spike. While Sharma is optimistic about the future—he points out that this is the new normal and people are bound to lay ‘a greater stress on social distancing and hygiene’—Tekriwal is tad more cautious in her predictions. “Virtual meeting applications like Zoom and Webex are the new private jets of business leaders,” she says. “These apps have taken over since the world has learned to work from home, now everyone’s gotten to a new normal of doing business virtually. Business travel is a major contributor to the travel industry and also to our business and we won’t see those numbers return to pre COVID levels anytime soon.”

However, she predicts that leisure would pick up in the coming years since WFH has become a reality. Overall HNIs will travel less but adds: “People will make only those trips that are extremely important. And for those trips they will prefer to fly private instead of commercial.”