The Private Jet phenomenon

Words Kushan Mitra

A private jet isn’t limited to the uber-rich folks of society anymore

Sometimes you have to get somewhere far off the beaten track or travel with a large group quickly. Commercial flights aren’t the only answer. Consider a private plane or helicopter instead.

There are over 500 airstrips in our country, and if small private airstrips are considered, there are more than a thousand places planes can land in India, and that number is almost endless when you consider helicopters. But even after the introduction of the new UDAN scheme by the government, only around 120-odd airports in India have scheduled commercial flights. However, with almost all Indian air traffic either originating or landing at the top 12 airports, air connectivity in India is skewed. So even if you had to get from a relatively large city like Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu to Dehradun you would have to travel via Delhi or Mumbai. But what if you had to get between Salem and Nainital? There are airports in both of these cities but at most there is only a single flight everyday from Chennai and Delhi respectively.

Sure, there is always the Indian Railways that inevitably has a train connecting any two points in the country, even though you might just need to take a stop sometimes. But, three to four days in a train is not everybody’s cup of tea, and even if you fly you will need to take a taxi from an airport to your destination, a trip that could involve hours in a taxi speeding down a highway. But do you have an option?

Well, if you have the money you can always fly on a private plane or helicopter. And if you work out the costs it might not be such a bank breaker as you might consider. You can hire all sorts of planes and helicopters, from small four-seat aircraft to large commercial aircrafts as well, depending on where you are going and how many people are travelling. Say you are having a big destination wedding in your family and over 150 people need to be flown down; it could actually be cheaper to charter a flight rather than to buy 150 tickets individually.

A jet can also double up as a meeting room with all the privacy you need.

Of course, the business option always makes sense; suppose you, from Delhi, have a meeting in Nashik, another major city without regular flights but also a major industrial hub. Instead of spending three to four hours in a taxi from Mumbai, it makes sense to fly directly on a private plane from Delhi. You would end up saving a whole day by the end of it, and as they correctly say, time is money. But if you are travelling with a few colleagues the costs become even more reasonable and you can travel at your own convenience not having to wake up at an ungodly hour to catch an early flight to Mumbai and also be back home in time for dinner with the family and get to sleep on your own bed.

Of course, this is not cheap and limited services at some airports does make planning last-minute flights very challenging. Recently, I took a chartered flight to the new Kishangarh Airport outside Ajmer but because the airport did not have night-landing facilities, we needed to take-off by a certain time. For some other airports, you need to plan with your chartering service a few weeks in advance so that security and airport personnel can be ready at the airport.

As we said, there are a whole host of different sort of private airplanes and helicopters and costs can range depending on the number of hours your flight takes, the distance you need to fly, whether the crew needs to stay overnight, and ultimately the type of aircraft. Basic turboprop planes like the Beech Kingair can carry 6-8 passengers but has a limited range; smaller private jets like the Learjet have more range but a small passenger capacity. You also have the Global Express by Bombardier which can fly intercontinental distances between India and Europe without needing to refuel. Both Airbus and Boeing make private jet versions of their Airbus A319 and Boeing 737-700 aircraft but the ultimate private jets are owned by some Arab Sheikhs for whom a Boeing 747 and an Airbus A380 have been converted into a private jet complete with ornate bedrooms and large entertainment areas.

High-end jets are bathed in genuine leather and the best of equipment.

A private jet airplane with its front access open.

If you find yourself using a private jet often enough, a model pioneered by Netjets in the United States allows you to rent a private jet for a certain number of hours every year. A plane is only making money when it is flying and it does not make sense for planes to lie idle for hours on the tarmac like cars do all day. After all, there is a marked difference between an asset costing $10000 and $10 million. The fractional ownership model has been adopted by several companies in India as well.

So how much does it cost to hire a private jet? We ask Abhishek Kulkarni, Chairman & Managing Director of Billion-Air Aerospace Pvt Ltd, a private jet company, to answer that question. Say for example, how much would a private flight from Delhi to Mumbai cost? “About 3 lakh for 7 people, which is a little more than INR 40,000 per person (easily comparable to the cost of a business class ticket) and no airport hassles as well,” he says. Is it tougher to get a private jet to some more remote airports in India and what should you consider if you’re flying to such destinations? Abhishek explains, “It is not at all difficult flying to remote destinations if it is a fixed wing because a fixed wing can also land if there is an approved runway with an ATC tower. However, in case of a helicopter, there are a lot of challenges to land at remote locations where there isn’t a proper helipad. A temporary helipad requires clearance on multiple check-points and additional permissions from local authorities that is rather time consuming. But if all the requirements are fulfilled, it is equally safe to land. Most of the helicopter crash landings and crashes during take-offs we witness in India are because of the bad quality of the temporary helipads. Hence, one needs to be very sure of everything before they decide to land or take off from such remote locations and our sole motive at Billion-Air is the safety of our clients so we do not accept any bookings till all the checks are in place.”

When asked about the biggest challenges facing private jet operators in India, Abhishek says, “Parking availability and the parking costs at airports, especially the busy ones are key challenges. Secondly, it’s just now that a lot of people have started hiring jets for their business travel or even a vacation with family. Having the aircraft parked without use is a major challenge for jet operators. And lastly, maintenance – if there is a replacement required for any major part, then the part needs to be ordered and imported from abroad, which is time consuming and it is a revenue and an opportunity loss to the operator.”

There you have it. A private jet isn’t limited to the uber-rich folks of society anymore. It can be well within anyone’s reach with a little planning and some cost analysis, especially when the expenses are shared. And let’s be honest – few feelings in the world beat the rare feeling of arriving in your mode of transport – and that too in a jet no less.

Now you can choose to travel hassle-free charter service with Billion-Air Aerospace.

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