With the pandemic grounding the aviation sector like never before, private charter services are emerging as a green shoot. Even as flying has resumed, it’s still quite restricted and stressful. No wonder then that nine private jets have landed in Goa in the past fortnight, as per airport officials, with the state emerging among the top destinations for the well-heeled who either own second homes there or are leasing private villas to spend leisure time with families. Most of the flights come from Mumbai and Delhi, India’s two worst-affected cities, adds an airport official.
According to Sachit Wadhwa, Founder and CEO, Book My Charters, “There has been a surge of 60 per cent in charter inquiries since lockdown; most of these flights are one-way and originate in Mumbai and Delhi. Goa is currently one of the top destinations for private charters, and there is a constant demand for the Delhi-Goa and Mumbai-Goa routes.”
Kanika Tekriwal CEO & Founder, JetSetGo, also confirms that the company is receiving a query after every alternate day for Goa and other places which are safe and don’t have too many cases. “A lot of queries are also received from people who want to travel internationally, which at the moment, due to the restrictions, is not a possibility,” she says, adding that many are trying to get to places which are safe, to kickstart their much-awaited annual holiday.
Tekriwal says that apart from Goa, they are receiving requests for destinations in Rajasthan and Madhya Pradesh, while internationally, requests for Dubai, Maldives, Sri Lanka and Thailand have been registered. The Delhi-based plane-aggregator and charter company, also called ‘Uber of the skies’, claim they are getting around 20 requests a day, out of which, 70% are from first-time customers.
Wadhwa says that the trend is catching up and they are receiving more and more enquiries from newer segments of customers, beyond business travel. Today, the typical Book My Charters customer is above the age of 50 and looking to travel to a vacation home within India or to visit family. Some wish to travel with pets, says a company spokesperson.
Not all enquiries result in booking though. Even though we are getting around 60% new enquiries, about 25% turn into actual bookings, says Sanjay Julka, CEO-Technical, Club One Air, one of India’s oldest and largest air charter companies. Tekriwal says that from the total requests that we have received for leisure travel after the domestic ban lift-up, we were able to fly 50% of flights.
In fact, industry insiders claim that the demand for private charters shot up nine-fold just ahead of the lockdown. Post the lockdown, JetSetGo received 10-12 requests a day to bring home people stuck in various parts of the world, even as they couldn’t fulfil all those requests owing to restrictions.
“During the lockdown, for the very first time, we saw requests like never before from people who weren’t necessarily wealthy or would not necessarily travel through business or first class. We saw a completely different set of guests requesting us for charters,” points out Tekriwal.
A study says that commercial fliers have over 200 touch points at the airport while private jets have as little as 30, so people will prefer private flying. Besides this safety aspect, chartering a private jet allows you to fly at your own convenience, at a time that suits you. Charters give you an option to skip layovers and reach directly to your destination if the circumstances permit.
But safety and exclusivity come at a price. For instance, the tentative hourly cost for a charter flying up to eight people starts at 1.25 lakh and goes upto 3.5 lakh. But there’s a catch: the flight duration is calculated from engine-start to engine-stop. So a Delhi-Mumbai-Delhi return flight would be calculated at a duration of five to six hours.
So, are private charters the future of the aviation industry? Tekriwal says, “As of the current situation, people will now be using private charters for necessity mainly because charters are considered more safe, hygienic and convenient. Having said that, there will also be more new customers that will be considering us.”