Even though rates have doubled, with some jets going for nearly Rs 4 lakh an hour, supply has dried up
As the battle for General Elections 2019 gets intense on the ground, the heat is being felt in the air too. And companies offering air charter services couldn't be happier.
Demand for chartered jets and helicopters has doubled in the last month, and so have hourly rates. Bigger charter jets are now going for nearly Rs 4 lakh an hour, more than twice their off-season rates.
"This time, the elections are more intense than the one in 2014. Political parties want more jets and helicopters, but the supply has already dried up," said a top executive from a New Delhi-based charter company. He requested to be anonymous.
General Elections 2019, which begin April 11, are being held in seven phases. The last phase is slated for May 19.
This schedule has added to the demand. "As the elections are stretched this time, contracts run for up to 60 days," said Captian Uday Gelli, President, Western Chapter of Rotary Wing Society of India.Demand and supply
Industry players estimate that there are 150 jets and 250 helicopters in the country. Of these, about 50 helicopters and up to 25 jets are being used in the current elections.
The numbers could have come down from 2014 as some owners have sold part of their fleet when the rupee depreciated against the dollar, which made sale of these aircraft more profitable.
Shorter supply has added to the intense demand, thereby increasing charter rates. In January itself, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma complained that the party was finding it tough to charter jets and helicopters. He blamed rival BJP for cornering aircraft supply.Advantage BJP
Industry players concur that the ruling party has been much more aggressive. "Much of the demand is from the BJP, and this was the case in 2014 too even though it was in the Opposition at the time," said the top executive cited earlier.
In both parties, it's the top leaders who avail these jets. "Those who have to travel long distances use fixed wings," Gelli said.
Typically, a leader like Amit Shah or Rahul Gandhi will use a jet to travel to a city or a town that has a runway. "From there, they will hop on to a helicopter to go into the interiors," Darius Boocha of Pune-based Shirke Aviation stated.
For this reason, helicopters are more in demand than jets. If it cost Rs 85,000 an hour to hire a helicopter, now it is about Rs 1,50,000 an hour. Most prefer to contract these aircraft for 30-60 days. "But irrespective of use, a jet or a helicopter is charged for at least two hours a day," another executive from the industry added.
That is why some also prefer to book ad hoc, so that they don't have to pay if not using the aircraft.Wear and tearGiven the high demand, usage of these machines is also intense. "If an aircraft was earlier used for 25 hours a month, now it is used for over 40 hours," Boocha said.
This also means that there is more tear and wear. "Since most of the helipads are make-shift and given the heat and dust, these machines need a lot of maintenance once the season gets over," says an industry executive.
"Some of the politicians use them like taxis," he added, pointing to the 'messed interiors' of the helicopters when they are returned after use.Nevertheless, these two months are crucial for the companies as the demand and high rates make up for any slack during the rest of the year.