India is an emerging market for private jets: Rajan Mehra, CEO, Club One Air
Club One Air is one of India’s largest and most professionally run charter companies. Rajan Mehra, CEO, Club One Air shares why he believes the business aviation segment is a volcano about to erupt. By Sudipta Dev
Your views on how the air charter segment has evolved in India in recent years?
India is an emerging market for private jets with rising economic growth, expanding business interests and increasing number of billionaires. India’s strategic geographical location, difficult terrains, favourable demographics, robust economic growth and business interests that are now looking at the interior tier 2 and tier 3 cities make it an ideal playground for business aviation.
A change of mindset of the authorities, the right policies focused on business side of aviation, increased focus on infrastructure development, rationalisation of taxes and easing of regulations could unleash the tremendous potential that lies in India for business aviation. We only have to see how a country like the US has seen tremendous gains for its economy through the rise of business aviation. India is already the third largest aviation market and is tipped to be the largest aviation market by the year 2030, business aviation will certainly have to play a vital role if this goal has to be achieved.
There are many challenges in this segment, how are you coping with the same?
The commercial side of aviation in India has seen a very healthy growth, the business side, unfortunately has not seen the same growth. But I have always felt, and am on record saying this, business aviation in India is a volcano waiting to erupt. The government must understand the business aviation is not just for the rich and famous, but can be a great tool for economic growth and employment generation. Once this realisation occurs, India can move steadily ahead towards a consistent 20 per cent growth in this sector, much like the growth we have been seeing in the commercial aviation space. The onus is not government alone to make this happen. The industry too needs to become more professional. There are several large industrial houses that keep aircraft for their private use and charter them when they are not in use. This can only lead to a half-hearted approach which is neither here nor there. We need professionally run charter companies whose goals are to grow the companies into world class business aviation entities.
Do you foresee any silver lining in time to come? What would be the key driver for this change?
The demand for charter jets in a country like India will keep increasing, for reasons mentioned above. India’s continuing rising economic growth, expanding business interests extending into the interiors, and a middle class with disposable incomes, coupled with India’s strategic geographical location, difficult terrains, favourable demographics, will ensure that the demand for business jets will keep rising. Currently India has around 550 aircraft within the business aviation fleet. Over 150 are business jets, about 275 are helicopters and the rest are turbo props. It is projected that this fleet size should reach 800 by 2020.
At Club One Air, we pride ourselves in being India’s largest and most professionally run charter company. Our biggest differentiator is our large and varied fleet size of state-of-the-art business jets, global service standards, complete reliability and of course safety. Our biggest USP is that we guarantee a plane, and if, for any reason it may not available, we provide a replacement aircraft immediately. For us the customer comes first, and that is why, although we are not the cheapest, we have a loyal and captive client base.
We have seen a healthy growth of 18-20 per cent in the last two years, with new categories of clients joining us. This has encouraged us to add more jets to our ever-growing fleet of aircraft. In the last three months, we have added two Falcon 2000 aircraft to our fleet. Whereas previously only industrialists at the top of the pyramid used business jets, we now have middle level business men who, realising the value of time are turning towards private jets to grow their businesses into the different regions of India. They would like to travel to a small town, do their business and return back the same night, something which would be extremely difficult in an airline.
If the government gets its act right and makes business- aviation – friendly policies, if the industry professionalises itself, if we see a thrust by the decision makers on infrastructure development, we could see a very healthy growth of 15-20 per cent for business aviation.
What are your exclusive offerings for the destination wedding segment ?
Destination weddings require bigger jets for guests, however our current fleet consists of Bombardier, Falcons and Cessna planes which can be used for VIP movements. It is true that our client base consists of a very large number of celebrities, politicians and the who’s who of the business world, who have been steadfastly loyal to us so any movement for weddings will be welcomed by Club One Air.
Our client is extremely satisfied with our high professional standards, reliability and personalised service. Our target destinations will continue to be primarily within India, Middle East, Europe, US, China, Far-East and Japan so any movement there for weddings will be welcomed by Club One Air.
What are your other luxury products for the HNIs and corporates ?
We have started World Class Luxury Airport Lounges under the banner of Club One Class which shall be offering cuisines and comfort to the flyers. Currently we have active airport lounges at Jaipur, Udaipur and Vadodara, we shall be soon operating the same from Jammu, Bhubaneshwar and Ahmedabad.
How will air charter companies like Club One Air contribute to remote connectivity, in the near future ?
In the last decade that we have been in operation, Club One Air planes have criss-crossed the length and breadth of India. We have a varied mix of high performance jets and a total fleet of 10 jets. In the last two years alone, we have operated to over 250 cities and small/medium towns of India. This includes several “uncontrolled airports”- a term used for airports that have very few/ no facilities, some do not even have an ATC support. This list includes airports like Gorakhpur, Ghazipur and Sultanpur in UP, Akola, Kolhapur, Solapur in Maharashtra; Rourkela, Chihindwara and Bhilai in Chhattisgarh; Jhalawar, Sirohi and Ganganagar in Rajasthan amongst a long list of destinations that we have served.
UDAN has certainly been a game changer for the aviation industry of India. It was not devised for business aviation but for a different segment. However, the infrastructure being developed for regional airlines will certainly assist business aviation too. Earlier, we were going to remote places with very little infrastructure support, patchy air strips and no ATC support. But with the government now focusing on these issues for the UDAN participants, business aviation should see a trickle-down effect.