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Wealthy ditch private jets for commercial as covid eases

New Delhi: Many of India’s wealthiest people are leaving their private bubbles to join commoners on commercial flights, as the pandemic fades and airlines get back into rhythm. These wealthy flyers had retreated to business jets during the pandemic to minimize the risk of catching the virus. According to industry data, a passenger on a regular commercial flight risks infection from at least 280 contact points compared with just 40 when flying on private jets.

As the wealthy switch back to commercial flights, the movement of private jets and helicopters saw a 17.1% drop during the 10 months to January, according to data from the Airports Authority of India. In contrast, such aircraft registered a 37% increase in growth in the year-ago period. Private jet usage is measured in terms of aircraft movement–one take-off and landing equals two aircraft movements.

Industry analysts peg the decline on the shift to commercial jet use but say demand will remain in the long term.

“It is true that during covid, people found it worth spending extra on business jets. As covid goes, they have other options; 80% of people went that way (to commercial flying). But there is a trend towards more charter requirements, and it will increase in the future. So, the demand for business jets is going to grow, not in the manner it grew during covid time, but long term there will be demand,” said Rajesh Bali, managing director of the Business Aircraft Operators Association.

For instance, industry insiders said a business person from UP’s Moradabad shifted to private jets during covid as he preferred safer flights for his family. But that has changed. “This person has completely shifted to commercial now,” an industry watcher said, requesting anonymity.

While people returning to commercial is a factor, some say many businesses also bought jets after covid set in.

“Many have bought business jets after experiencing private flying during the pandemic—many of these buyers are from smaller cities of India,” said Santosh Sharma, founder of Bookmyjet, an online booking portal for business jets.

While the business jet industry is struggling, scheduled airlines in India are witnessing a record number of passengers despite high airfares, hotel tariffs and inflation. Mint reported on 21 February that the sector is witnessing its best-ever quarter in terms of passengers flying in February. The fiscal fourth quarter traditionally sees low demand in India.

India’s average daily domestic air passenger numbers in February increased to more than 420,000 from 410,000 in December.

India’s business jet operators, however, are hopeful of a better year ahead on the back of elections in key states such as Karnataka, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.

“We expect a surge in demand for private jet travel during the elections…Overall, we are optimistic about the demand for our services this year, including during the state elections,” said Kanika Tekriwal, founder and chief executive of JetSetGo, a business jet service provider.


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