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After the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, the tribe of the first- timer fliers is steadily rising. People who never gave private flying a second look, and thought it too elitist and snobbish, have now suddenly woken up to the advantages of this mode of travel. However, several questions remain unanswered for them, and in the next few paragraphs I hope to address some of the common questions that a first-time traveller may have before he/she embarks on this adventure. So here goes:
What really is the advantage of travelling in a private aircraft? What value does it add for me?
This is a commonly asked question. Why do I need it? Well, the answers are glaring now, especially in the present times. The first reason would be to travel with minimum exposure to other passengers and air crew. No matter which class you travel, you cannot avoid coming in close contact with other passengers, the cabin crew or the ground staff at the check in counter. Every contact increases the risk of getting the flu. In contrast, flying privately reduces the risk of contact. You travel safely by yourself, or in the group of known people. From the time of departure to arrival, you have minimum contact with the people who you do not need to be near.
The second added value would be to save time. With restricted commercial connectivity, sometimes travelling from Place A to Place B may require a few connections, thereby increasing your travel time and the associated risks. When you fly private, you get yourself pointto-point transportation at the time of your requirement, and travel efficiently and with minimum time wastage.
The last big value addition would be to cut the long processes at the airports, both at departure and arrival. Present conditions require the passengers travelling commercially to report a couple of hours before the flight to ensure the necessary protocol for sanitisation, temperature checks, baggage checks etc are gone through in detail. The same will happen at the arrival airport. Once you fly private, these protocols are fast tracked, with minimum hassles at both the ends. After all, the reason for flying is minimum wastage of time and saving on hassles!
Is flying in a private aircraft safe?
Answer: Contrary to the general belief, flying in private aircraft is as safe, if not safer than flying in commercial airlines. Private charter companies are held to the same standard of safety as commercial airlines by the Director General of Civil Aviation, who is the safety regulator for all. The pilots are trained to the same safety standards, and the aircraft are subject to the same maintenance standards that are required by the regulator for all operators. In fact, some of the modern private jets are installed with cockpits and avionics which are a generation ahead than those available in commercial aircraft. Most of the safety features that you find in modern commercial airliners today came to the private jets, before they were installed in the airliners, be it HUD, EVAS, Active Control Side sticks, and many more such features. Safety records of general aviation are comparable to commercial airliners.
Flying in private aircraft is as safe, if not safer than flying in commercial airlines. most of the safety features that you find in modern commercial airliners today came to the private jets before they were installed in the airliners.
What does it cost to fly privately? Is it awfully expensive?
This is a frequently asked question, and honestly, it is exceedingly difficult to explain the actual cost benefit of flying in a private aircraft. Yes, of course it is more expensive. Travelling in a Rolls-Royce will always be more expensive than travelling in Metro or a Subway, right? However, I would rather discuss this in terms of value than in terms of pure cost. The true value comes out in terms of the time saved and convenience afforded, rather than in real dollar values.
One of the examples that I like to give is of a group of six people who need to travel from Kolkata to Jamshedpur for a day business meeting flying commercially, from Kolkata to Ranchi, on a flight that departs at 11:40 am (IndiGo) in the morning and arrives at Ranchi at 12:50 pm being the only non-stop flight in the morning time. Reporting time at Kolkata is 9:30 am, therefore, one needs to leave home accordingly. After arriving at Ranchi, the team gets into the waiting cars, which drives them to Jamshedpur, taking a total of 3 hours, that is arriving here by 4:00 pm. After conducting the business for the rest of the day, the team leaves for Jamshedpur by road at 8:00 am the next morning, and arrive at Ranchi at 11:00 am to take the 1:20 pm flight for Kolkata, arriving at 2:55 pm. Hence, two full days gone of the six senior executives, to travel for a four-hour meeting. Consider, the man hours invested in this travel, and cost associated with it.
Alternatively, these six executives could have hired a small King Air B200, which would have taken about two hours each way and arrive for their meeting at 10:00 am in the morning, directly from Kolkata to Jamshedpur, and depart by 5:00 pm in the evening to return to Kolkata by 7:00 pm, all in a day’s work. In this case, the total cost for six executives would be about 6 lakhs, all inclusive.
If I look at only the dollar value, the cost of 1.0 lakh per passenger to fly privately, to say about 30,000/- per passenger (including air tickets, road transport, night hotel, food etc.), seems a little over three times. But when we start looking at convenience and the real value of the private flight, anyone can figure out the value that is derived from the private flight. The senior executives arrive fresh for the meeting, with razor sharp focus. They can utilise the time enroute to discuss the strategy and use the time on the return flight to sum up and prepare follow up actions of the meetings. Most private aircraft are well connected to the internet and the team utilises this time to clean up the day’s meeting and follow up so that they are free to focus on the next event the following day in office.
Do I need to own a private aircraft to fly in it? Or can I just simply lease/charter it?
This question is often asked by many potential users of the private aircraft. The answer is simple. It depends on your own level of utilisation. If you think that you are going to be a frequent user, and your utilisation is likely to be about 200 hours in year or more, it may be best to invest into a private aircraft and have it for your captive use. The availability of private aircraft in the market for spot charters is limited, and sometimes, when you need it at short notice, you may find that there are no suitable aircraft available for your requirement. It may then be best to make sure that you have your own aircraft, which is available for your use. Plus, you have the added comfort of having a regular crew who flies you and you can maintain your service and safety standards as per your requirement.
Alternatively, if you are not such a frequent user, and can plan your trips in advance, the charter option is a great option, and more cost effective.
What are the costs associated with buying a private aircraft? And for chartering an aircraft?
\In case you decide to buy a private aircraft, you can acquire a new one, or buy one from the pre-owned market. The pre-owned aircraft market is very attractive, wherein you can buy a three to fiveyear-old aircraft at about 60 per cent of the cost of a new one!
The cost can vary for a small turbo prop, like a King Air 200 (6-7 passengers) at about $2.5 million (approx. to 18 crores). In case you are looking at mid-size jets, like the Falcon 2000 or Challenger 300, the cost can vary from $6-10 million (45-75 crores). If you desire an ultra-long-range jet for intercontinental flights, there are aircraft such as the Gulfstream G550, Global 6000 and the Falcon 7X. A fiveyear-old aircraft can cost anything between $22-28 million (165 -200 crores). Besides the acquisition costs, there will be associated costs such as fixed monthly costs to include, pilot salaries, insurance, annual training, administrative costs etc. The Direct Operating Costs include cost of fuel, spares, maintenance, engine reserves etc. Each aircraft will have its own costs. A word of caution, in case you do plan to buy an aircraft, it is prudent to use the services of an aircraft acquisition consulting firm that can help you with the entire process, and ensure that you get the right aircraft, and the correct price.
If you want to charter an aircraft, the cost can vary from One Lakh an hour for a King Air B200, to about 3 to 4 lakhs an hour for a mid-size jet. Ultra-long-range jets can cost about 5-6 lakhs an hour. Besides the hourly cost, there will be associated costs of airport handling, crew accommodation for overnight halts.
Rohit Kapur is a veteran of the private aviation industry, with decades of experience in various capacities. Previously, he was also the founding President of Business Aircraft Operators Association (BAOA).
This article was originally published in SP Guide Publications/BizAv India.