NEW DELHI: High-flying netas have reversed the trend in general aviation sector with more and more politicians taking charter flights for election campaigns. The negative growth has turned positive in March with the total charter flight movement rising 11.2 per cent from a year-ago period this election season.
As per the latest data by Airports Authority of India (AAI), the total aircraft movement in the general aviation sector in March, 2019 was 26,964 compared to 24,229 in the same month last financial year. Besides reversing negative trends, the March growth was highest in the last six months.
Most key non-scheduled operators have seen their fleet utilization soaring to 100 per cent and profit margins touching all time high in the last two months.
"All our aircraft have been flying through March and April. In fact, the last two months have been the best months in the last several years. It was expected because election requirement is so much this time that almost all the operators had their aircraft busy," said Rajan Mehra, a veteran aviation professional and Chief Executive Officer of Club One Air.
"In both March and April our fleet utilization has been 100 per cent whereas normal utilization is about 80 per cent," Mehra added.
A luxury business jet operator providing a range of specialized flights, Club One claims to be the largest non-scheduled operators in the country. The Delhi-based firm currently has 10 aircraft that includes CRJ-100, Falcon 2000 and Cessna Citation Excel.
As per aviation regulator DGCA data, the number of operators with the non-scheduled operator's permit (NSOP) reached a peak of 147 in FY 2012 which reduced to 111 in FY 2018. The present ownership pattern indicates a fragmented sector with most of the operators owning 1-3 aircraft.
The NSOP fleet in India comprises around 356 aircraft, including helicopters. This is down from a peak of 412 aircraft in FY 2012. In addition to the NSOP fleet, there were 134 fixed wing and 48 helicopters registered with the aviation regulator as of July, 2018.
Capt. R.K. Bali, Managing Director, Business Aircraft Operator's Association (BAOA), said that when elections come aircraft utilization goes up 100 per cent or beyond as many operators bring in additional aircraft to cater to the demand.
"Margins are comfortable during elections. During normal times, margins are not sustainable at all," Bali said.
Capt Pankaj Chopra, Director (aviation), EIH Aviation, part of Oberoi Hotels & Resorts group, said that before the campaign season starts, all the parties sign agreement and book aircraft in advance.
"After that aircraft is very busy. Flying on an average goes up 40-50 per cent. Sometimes parties do not even get aircraft for their campaigning because there is sudden shortage of aircraft," he added.
The election season has given major push to the demand for helicopters to cover far-flung areas, hilly regions and smaller towns.
"Largely driven by the needs to reach out to maximum number of voters in the minimum possible time - even though the season is still ongoing, statistics already point out to higher distances (and voters) being covered this time than ever before," said Anshuman Sinha, Principal, A.T. Kearney.