Q: To begin with, where do you see the Indian aviation sector going in the coming years, given that it has seen a phenomenal growth in the last one decade?
A: The commercial side of the aviation industry has seen a very healthy growth; the business side, unfortunately, has not seen that kind of growth and I have always felt and even said earlier that the future of India is in business aviation. The fact that we are such a large country, with the kind of demographics that we have and the kind of small towns and cities we have where businesses want to expand to—and commercial aviation cannot cover those areas—it does not take rocket science to see that the future of business aviation is extremely positive in India in the coming years.
Q: There is a mindset that business aircraft are mostly for the rich and famous. How do you think this mindset is changing in India?
A: Yes, there was a mindset problem in India like in many other countries that business jets were for the rich and famous, but the US and Europe have proved that it is not the case and it is a huge boost for the economic sector. Similarly, I can see that both at the government level as well as the public level, the mindset is changing. It is now felt that business aviation is an important tool for economic growth. In India, too, now we don’t only have the Ambanis and the Tatas flying business jets, we have mid-level business people who have realised the value of time and are wanting to go to small towns for business like never before. Different segments of people are now flying business jets because the price difference is not much as people used to think earlier.
Q: What role do you think the government can play to help the business jets sector take off in India? Has there been any improvement from the government’s side when dealing with this niche segment?
A: I think to an extent, the government has realised the potential of business jets and what role they can play for the economic growth of the country. In the last three years, through bodies like BAOA (Business Aircraft Operators Association), AMCHAM India (American Chamber of Commerce in India), USIBC (US-India Business Council) and several other bodies, it has been lobbied seriously with the government that business aviation is an economic booster. As things have changed, when we talk to decision-makers now, we find that they give us time and their ear. They also seem to understand the concerns of this segment. Such things do take a lot of time, but I can see that happening with the Regional Connectivity scheme kicking off. The government’s focus on aviation infrastructure development in smaller cities and towns for air connectivity is also going to be beneficial for us. Earlier, we were going to remote places where there was hardly an airstrip or a broken one and even sometimes without ATC support, but now all these are being sorted out with the development of infrastructure.
Q: Club One Air is perhaps one of the finest private jet providers in the country, with one of the best fleets and customers in this segment. There is surely room for more growth. Tell us about your expansion plans in the coming years.
A: We are right now the largest private aviation operator in the country. We have a fleet of 10 aircraft, which includes the Bombardier CRJ 100, an 18-seater aircraft which is the only such plane in the country. We have had three Falcon jets and have recently imported another one, making it the new addition to our fleet. We also have the Cessna Citations. We are a professional and structured business aviation company, unlike most of the other players who are like fly-by-night operators and don’t own planes. The major expansion plans are to increase our bases from the ones we already have in Delhi and Mumbai; we also want to fly more abroad and even aim to have planes that could fly non-stop to London and other such distant cities. Along with this, we are also working towards increasing our domestic operations. We are also hoping to increase our fleet by another five to seven planes in the next two to three years and may be get more variety in our fleet.
Q: Tell us about the government regulations involved in operating business jets and how long does it takes to get the necessary government permissions to fly?
A: The Indian regulations have changed exponentially in the last two to three years. We now have a government that understands the importance of business aircraft. Earlier, there was a time when business aircraft that were coming from outside the country required one week’s time for clearance, but now it just three days maximum to get approvals, and in many cases, we get it in just two days. Not only this, approvals for getting new planes and spare parts have also changed drastically. In the last three years, we have seen a very positive attitude on the part of the government.
Q: When do you think we can reach the level of China, in terms of the business aviation sector?
A: I think we can. Just about eight to ten years ago, India had more private planes than China and then in the last 10 years, China suddenly exploded with economic growth, with people having plenty to money to buy jets. During this time, a lot of people in China bought private jets. But in the last two years, the Chinese government has clamped down, making it difficult for businessmen to buy private jets. In that respect, if we can get our act right, we can even get ahead of them.
Q: Can you name a few big and famous people you have flown in the last six months?
A: I do not know if it would be fair to name anyone, but we have flown several celebrities and almost all politicians, cutting across party lines.
Q: During election time in India, what is your business like?
A: During election time, there is a huge demand for private jets. As we have a fixed customer base, we cater to the demand that we can. During election time, everyone, across party lines, is looking for private jets since they have tight schedules and have to go to remote places for campaigning.
Q: Among your fleet, which is the most sought after by the business class?
A: Falcon planes are the most sought after ones. They are by far the most comfortable, the quietest and possibly the most customer-friendly planes in the skies right now. Most of our customers who have flown the Falcon, do not want any other plane, not even the bigger Bombardiers.
Q: You are also the official sponser of the “Wings India 2018” air show in Hyderabad this year. How do you view such air shows and business aviation growing through such activities?
A: Air shows, to a large extent, are showcases for planes, but for countries and for the aviation industry of those countries, they are a great place for networking of key players in those industries. They become a meeting point for the world’s Who’s Who of the aviation industry. They are also a morale booster for the host country because not many countries in the world host air shows.