Friday, February 08, 2013

India Inc puts biz jets, copters on the block

Bangalore: A few big names of India Inc which went into chartered aviation services is beating a retreat, putting helicopters and business jets on the block. Regulatory bottlenecks have stifled their charter, or general aviation, forays despite a surge to operate private jets.

GMR Aviation had ordered a Dassault Falcon 7X business jet priced at Rs 250 crore 18 months ago, but the company has put it on sale even before taking delivery. The other corporate names trimming their fleet include Captain G R Gopinath's Deccan Charters, which has put seven aircrafts on sale through online classified aircraft listing portals AircraftMarketPlace, Aircraft Sales World and Aircraftonsale.

Reliance Transport & Travels, the travel arm of Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group, is divesting a Bell helicopter and a super large business jet Bombardier Global 5000. The Anil Ambani firm has previously sold Bell 407 and Beechcraft King Air B200 to US companies. A Reliance Group spokesperson said this sale is part of the routine modernization of our fleet from time to time.

GMR Aviation, which has a fleet of three fixed wing and two rotary wing aircraft including two Falcon jets, said: "We have not taken delivery as yet, and would definitely explore the possibility if someone requires it more than us. The existing fleet serve our needs as a non-scheduled operator permit."

Gopinath's Deccan Charters has put the light utility Bell helicopters on sale with an asking price between Rs 3.5 to Rs 4 crore. Sanjay Saihgal, VP-business development in the company said, "We are letting go of some of the old aircraft in our fleet. We are replacing them with new aircraft depending on the specific requirement for contracts we will be getting into." Deccan, with a current fleet of 15 aircrafts, also wants to sell Pilatus PC-12 and Super King Air B-200.

Pune-based Oxford Enterprises offering aviation services is axing a Bell 407 helicopter from the fleet. The company's operations manager Anirudha Uttam Seoleker refused to comment on the sale, but he confirmed that the company had sold a four-seater helicopter Robinson 44 (R44) recently.

A PricewaterhouseCoopers report on India's general aviation said the market is expected to grow at 10% annually to cross Rs 1,600 crore in the next five years, as nearly 300 business jets, 300 small aircraft and 250 helicopters are expected to be added to the present fleet by then.

"Scheduled flights on metro sectors generally get preference over general aviation aircraft which defeats the purpose. High cost of ownership, high landing and parking charges, high cost of maintenance, and bad infrastructure at small airports have created significant challenges for owners of business jets," said Amber Dubey, partner and head-aviation at global consultancy KPMG. At the height of the economic boom, more than 35 Indian companies like Indiabulls offered chartered aviation services.

Captain Murali Ramakrishna, former CEO Crescent Air Cargo, said high landing fees affect charter operators eating into their profits. "I was chartering a flight on the Delhi-Jaipur sector and the airport authorities charged Rs 20,000 per landing. GMR that operates the Delhi airport charges Rs 13,000 per landing and Rs 2,500 per passenger for chartered flights. We also have to bear the transportation cost from the parking bay to the aircraft," he said.

PwC said more than Rs 200 billion investment would flow into general aviation during the 12th Five Year Plan. "The government needs to come out with a supportive policy regime. Our captains of industry need to have the privacy of a private jet to conduct business activities while flying. This needs to be understood rather than being scoffed at as a luxury demand of the rich and famous," KPMG's Dubey added.