Air charters soared even in COVID

Charter aviation industry was one of the few industries that benefitted from the pandemic. ‘We struggled like everyone else in the first six months. However, our revival has been a lot stronger and faster than anyone else’s,’ shares Kanika Tekriwal, Founder and CEO, JetSetGo Aviation.

Nisha Verma

The pandemic saw the charter aircraft business take off like no other. Kanika Tekriwal, Founder and CEO, JetSetGo Aviation, said, “We never expected this surge to come after COVID. Everyone wanted a plane to move parents, kids, pets, etc. That was the first piece of demand and they all preferred private over commercial aircraft owing to risk against kids and elderly at main airports,” she informs.

Catering to first timers

She said that a lot of queries were from people who were first time private jet users and who would remain last time private jet users also. “I think handling them was most difficult because they would not understand why a Delhi-Mumbai ticket would cost `10,000 for commercial airline, whereas the private jet costs `8 lakhs. We patiently attended to their queries because most of these people were going through some duress at the time,” she explained.

COVID, a learning

Saying that COVID was a big learning experience, she added, “It made us realise that we need to increase our offering and make our offering more suitable for the masses. Hence, we started the JetShare program, where we had three to four people booking a plane together. We ran some packages to Maldives, when people first started doing vacations. Suddenly, we saw demand among people moving to Goa. Overall, it was a very good learning experience for us.”

In fact, Tekriwal claimed, the private jet industry was one of the few industries that got benefitted. “We struggled like everyone else in the first six months. However, our revival has been a lot stronger and faster than anyone else’s,” she mentioned.

The flip side

Tekriwal agreed that the trend led to revenue increase for everyone in the industry. “At the same time, during this period, the input cost has almost become twice. Fuel has now almost become twice of what it was. Our spare parts and freight costs have gone up substantially. Training costs have gone up because of COVID, leading to a lot of pilots not being able to go for training,” she claimed.

Trade and inbound

Tekriwal shared that the private jet business is “90 per cent B2C and only 10 per cent B2B. That’s primarily because most private jet users are HNIs and UHNIs. They would not ideally go through a travel agent for a private jet. Still almost 10 per cent of our bookings happen through travel agents.”

Talking about inbound business, she said, “Earlier December to February, most of the private aircraft were deployed for Jaipur, Udaipur, Jodhpur, Goa and Kerala circuits because there was so much inbound tourism coming in. Somehow, since COVID, India still has not been able to pick up its inbound numbers. Domestic tourism is at its all-time high, which can be seen at all levels. Hotels are full with domestic customers, conferences and business guests. However, no inbound conferences are happening. Earlier, we used to see a lot of international conferences coming in, where charter planes were used. Now, zoom has become the new private jet. Thus, there is no real need for the corporates to travel.”

India’s perception

Claiming that earlier they used to get inbound corporate travel business via Delhi, but now things have changed. “After speaking to a lot of international customers, I have realised that it’s not about how much COVID is there in India, it’s that foreigners don’t trust the Indian Healthcare System to be able to handle it. Thus, outbound business is growing, but inbound has dramatically fallen,” she said.

Airport ease

Tekriwal claimed that it’s easy to go through all the processes at the airports these days. “All airports have transparent online procedures. Overall, it’s simple to apply for permits and clearances. However, airports slots are an issue. Other issues include shortage and price of fuel,” she informed.

Aircraft status

Tekriwal revealed that they work on three different programmes, when it comes to aircraft. “One is self-owned planes, which we operate for charter. Then another is a programme for owners, when other people buy planes and only use it for 200-300 hours. We buy all the excess capacity of the plane so that their costs are reduced. The third programme is when a lot of people buy planes, but don’t manage them, as it’s not their expertise. Hence, we manage the aircraft completely for them. Currently, we have 34 planes available,” she said.

Govt support

However, when it comes to government support for the industry, she opined, “I think this industry is always considered an industry for the rich. It has a very bad perception. As it is, the aviation sector, because of COVID, didn’t get any bailout and now we don’t get fuel, and the price is only rising. The government is not controlling it. Even the commercial price tickets have gone up dramatically. Hence, we are left on our own means to figure this out.”

Roadmap ahead

When asked about plans, Tekriwal revealed, “Going forward, we want to get into the aircraft leasing space. We opened a company in Gift City. We are leasing a second aircraft to that company in Gift City, after which we would hopefully increase that number going forward. However, the long term plan is to do a lot of EvTOLs. The idea is that at places like Hyderabad, Bengaluru, Delhi and Mumbai, which are so cramped for traffic, we must ensure to move traffic off the roads and into the sky. We are working closely with the government and a lot of people. Our target is to make that a reality by 2026.”

 

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