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DEVELOPING MARKETS - INDIA

A friend, who has never travelled to India, recently asked me what it was like doing business in Delhi. The best illustration I could come up with was, “it’s like going through any of the city’s many roundabouts”.

AvBuyer   |   1st January 2011
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India: Is Bizav ready for take off?

A friend, who has never travelled to India, recently asked me what it was like doing business in Delhi. The best illustration I could come up with was, “it’s like going through any of the city’s many roundabouts”.

As you approach there are a vast number of different forms of transport to contend with – bicycles, cars, motorbikes, mopeds, trucks, buses, tuktuks (small taxis), pedestrians, donkeys and elephants - all converging on a limited area at great speed and yet everyone slows, manages to avoid collision and somehow emerges the other side unscathed. It needs a steady nerve, an unswerving desire to steer a true course and a singular belief that you will emerge the other side enriched for the experience!

Similarly, if you happen to be in private aviation and want to fly an aircraft into India you have to be prepared for the bureaucratic equivalent of transiting a roundabout – all manner of forms will flow your way and provided you can navigate through the red tape you will emerge a slightly dishevelled, but more knowledgeable human being.

For the uninitiated, India can be a scary place to take a private aircraft. The lack of infrastructure and support for GA suggests that it is not a great market for business aviation and yet, for those with an eye to the future, there are many potential rewards.

Currently the scheduled carrier market in India handles 45 million domestic passengers and 35 million international. However, the market is growing at an exceptional pace and is forecast to be the 3rd largest global market with 600 million passengers by 2027. Prior to 2005 little attention was paid to infrastructure planning - and the development of airports was haphazard and limited in scope. Nowadays, airport planning is more structured and an investment program will see new facilities and terminals coming on stream at most of the major hub airports and some new Greenfield sites.

For the corporate and business traveller the scheduled network works fine if you are travelling between the major hubs, but not so fine if you need to go to cities and regions off the main hub routes, or wish to fly outside the normal peak traffic periods. Connections are poor and infrequent.

For the corporate executive or entrepreneur with time management issues, the existing network is unlikely to fulfil their needs and consequently, there has been a steady increase in the number of private air charter operators in India ordering new aircraft to serve this requirement. The current business aviation jet fleet in India stands at 111 (larger than China), with a further 156 aircraft on order. In all likelihood this will grow further over the next five to 10 years.

A comparison with the US suggests that India should have at least 1,000 business jets – India has an economy one tenth the size of the US, and yet the US has 11,000 business jets. If even the most pessimistic economic forecasts are taken into account, India is likely to double the size of its economy over the next five years - and it’s hard to imagine that a US$2.5 trillion economy would not be supporting a larger business jet fleet.

Additionally, there already exists a significant helicopter fleet and the tightly packed cities with heavily congested roads between the airport and the CBD suggests that rotary operations are likely to become more numerous.

The real problem for Business Aviation in India is that the executive branch has little or no focus on GA issues. Hitherto, the pace of change has been slow and there have been no great GA success stories. If you are an owner or a charter operator there is a general lack of facilities for parking and MRO at the main airports, and no real FBO or support services exist. If you wish to fly outside the normal operating hours then there are limited options.

I have also been into various Government departments and met with senior officials who clearly have only a vague idea of what Business Aviation is and how it can impact on the Indian economy.

Last year, I was with Capt Karan Singh in Delhi who has, along with various other private aviation operators, formed the Business Aviation Association for India (BAAI) and together with the Rotary Wing Society of India (representing the helicopter operators) it was decided the time was right to launch an event dedicated to the needs and issues surrounding the emergence of Business Aviation in India. It’s called the Indian Business Aviation Expo (IBAE), the first event running last year in Delhi http://www.miuevents.com/archive/ibae-10, repeating annually.

The question I originally asked Capt Singh was “Is Business Aviation in India ready for Take Off?” – he replied “Yes, but the politicians, public officials, operators, support and service functions and industry associations all need to be involved”.

I went on to ask him, if we could get all those folk together, and we could agree a common purpose, what would happen? He replied that with so many conflicting interests that was not always easy in India, but if we could, “It would not just take off – it would go through the sound barrier!”

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