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Elections: Chartered flights get costly, Rs 2.85 lakh an hour!

April 14, 2014 11:11 IST

Elections: Chartered flights get costly, Rs 2.85 lakh an hour!

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Aneesh Phadnis in Mumbai

Over the past few days, the average monthly utilisation (flying hours) of small jets, turboprop aircraft and choppers has doubled. 

It's election season and, amid politicians' hectic campaign trail across cities, towns and rural locations, base managers of companies running chartered planes are having a field day.

At a time these companies were facing difficulties due to several reasons, such as high operating costs, stiff penalties for extended parking hours in Mumbai and a greater regulatory scrutiny, the election-season rush has brought some cheer to non-scheduled operators and chartered plane companies.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Dassault Aviation
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Over the past few days, the average monthly utilisation (flying hours) of small jets, turboprop aircraft and choppers has doubled. 

Charter rates, especially for twin-engine choppers, which are in demand from top ministers and high-ranking politicians, have soared, too.

That is because VIPs are not allowed under the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) norms to travel in single-engine choppers.

"Aircraft flying hours have increased. A non-scheduled or chartered aircraft logs an average 30-50 hours a month. These days, we are seeing 50-80 hours of flying. We have a fleet of 11 aircraft and choppers in India and Dubai. Of those, two turboprop aircraft, two choppers and a jet aircraft are being used for election campaign flying; the rest are being used for regular commercial charters. Our aircraft are flying for all parties. There are no preferences," says Sandeep Bhatt, group CEO, Ligare Voyages Ltd, an aviation arm of the Religare group.

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Image: Rahul Gandhi hops out of a helicopter during his election campaign in UP
Photographs: Jitendra Prakash/Reuters

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Elections: Chartered flights get costly, Rs 2.85 lakh an hour!

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Charter rates also vary on the basis of the type of an aircraft or chopper. 

A Falcon or Hawker jet, with longer range and larger cabins, is available for around Rs 2.85 lakh an hour, while a smaller jet like Citation CJ2, costs around Rs 1.2 lakh an hour. These rates are largely remain steady.

Charter rates for choppers have seen a spike lately. A Dauphin N3 or Bell 412 chopper, which could earlier be hired for Rs 2.3 lakh an hour, now commands Rs 2.8 lakh an hour. Similarly, single-engine choppers like Bell 407 or AS350 can now be hired for Rs 1.5 lakh an hour, instead of the earlier rate of Rs 90,000 an hour.

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Photographs: Christian Valle/Wikimedia Commons
Tags: Bell , AS350 , CJ2

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Elections: Chartered flights get costly, Rs 2.85 lakh an hour!

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These rates include operating costs but do not cover hotel accommodation for pilots and crew in the even of an aircraft or a chopper being flown away from base. Over the past couple of years, the number of choppers available for civilian use (excluding those flying to offshore rigs) has declined to around 150.

"Smaller planes like Citation CJ2, KingAir B200 or Piaggio Avanti are in high demand during election times. That's because these planes can land on airstrips of less than 4,000 feet. A Falcon or a Hawker jet requires a runway that is more than 4,500 feet long," says Atiesh Mishra, general manager at Taj Air, the Tata group's aviation wing.

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Photographs: Courtesy, Dassault Aviation

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This election season, an increased vigil has been one of the important aspects of chartered flight operations.

"DGCA and the Election Commission has been far stricter and more vigilant this time. That has brought about transparency in operations," says Rajeev Wadhwa, chairman of Baron Luxury and Lifestyles, an aggregator of private jets that also runs a jet-card programme. 

Typically, planning for election flying begins six to seven months before a campaign begins.

For charters, the election season is of 45-60 days. During this period, flying is at its peak for around 30 days.

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Image: Falcon 2000S business jet.
Photographs: Courtesy, Dassault Aviation

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During the planning stage, charter brokers buy or commit block hours per aircraft from chartered plane companies, in lieu of an advance sum.

For instance, a broker could buy a committed flying of 90 hours per aircraft for 30 days and sell it to a political party, based on its requirements. 

Election flying entails a set of risks for charter brokers, too. They commit a certain number of hours to chartered flight operators and make full payment for it in advance, irrespective of utilisation.

According to a source, some brokers might have got their calculation wrong this time as well. "Their calculations have gone haywire. Some were expecting political parties to book more flights," the source says.


Image: Bombardier aircraft.
Photographs: Courtesy, Bombardier
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