In India, the demand for private jets is growing at a rapid pace as an expanding economy throws up a new class of billionaires, millionaires and affluent businessmen.
Mahesh Iyer is a senior executive at the Bangalore-based Shamanur Group. It is involved in businesses ranging from sugar mills to real estate, education and aviation.
He is among a growing number of Indian businessmen and corporate executives who frequently use a private jet to fly them whenever and wherever they want.
Iyer says it helps save time and gives company executives better control over their schedule.
“Now I am in Colombo, I have got only one flight going to Bangalore in the evening, so if somebody wants to go in the morning, then he can take a private jet, I mean if it is important that he has to go for a meeting in the morning,” Iyer explained.
As the ranks of the affluent increase in India, so too the numbers of private jets. The tally of private planes in the country is now 142 - up nearly 50 percent in three years. This is a fraction of the number in Western countries like the United States, but according to the global consulting firm, Frost and Sullivan, India has the maximum number of private jets in Asia - more than in China.
The private planes vary from the Hawker Beechcrafts to the luxurious Airbus corporate jet. India’s richest man - Reliance Industries chief Mukesh Ambani -- gave an Airbus jet to his wife as a gift.
While India’s growing band of billionaires and millionaires are snapping up their own jets, many businesses are hiring them from a host of private jet charters that have come into the market to take advantage of the growing demand.
Lease or own?
Bangalore-based Jupiter Aviation is one of the companies that leases private jets. Julian D’Souza, a Jupiter executive, says business is expanding at nearly 15 percent a year.
“Private jets is a happening thing," explained D'Souza. "What happened in U.S. and Europe about 10 years back is happening today in India, slowly getting on to corporate honchos where people do not have time to go and wait at an airport and get a commercial flight, so this is the most happening thing. You just enter the airport, and you walk into your aircraft and in most places, your vehicle walks [comes] right to the gate and picks you up.”
Rental costs vary from $1500 dollars an hour for a smaller aircraft to $100,000 an hour for the bigger and more luxurious planes.
But that does not deter customers, who want to escape flight delays, traffic jams, and need faster connectivity.
Aviation analysts say the private planes are not just seen as symbols of wealth but as a necessary cost of doing business efficiently.
Aviation analyst Rajan Mehra in New Delhi says the rapid growth of the economy in the last five years has helped businesses expand their operations both within and outside India.
But commercial flights are still limited to major metropolitan areas, excluding many parts of the vast country, and prompting a range of businessmen to fly in private planes.
“It is not just industrialists right now who are going in private jets, even corporate heads, even medium level businessmen who are realizing that with distances far in India," noted Mehra, "where infrastructure is not always available for large commercial jets in the interiors, the best thing is to do is to have a small plane and be able to visit their factories, their other offices in the interiors so India is bound to be among the top countries as far as private jets go.”
It is certainly boom times for the industry. And with forecasts that India’s business jet fleet could grow three times by the end of this decade, more Bomardiers, Gulfstreams and Cessnas are expected to be seen in Indian skies.