Battle of Perception

Business Aircraft Operators Association’s (BAOA) biggest battle is fighting the ‘battle of perception’ that business aircraft is for the rich and famous. BAOA is determined to engage, engage and engage with government to propel aviation growth.

The refrain at the second edition of the BizAvIndia conference of the Business Aircraft Operators Association in Hyderabad has been to fight the biggest battle, the battle of perception that business aviation is a rich man’s tool. The association has vowed itself to come together on a stronger note and engage the government at different levels, not just the Ministry of Civil Aviation (MoCA).

Though no representative of the MoCA or government was present at the BAOA conference (Anil Srivastava, Joint Secretary of MoCA did not turn up), industry leaders and experts said it was imperative for all to keep going after the ‘big optics’ of aviation (5/20 rule and other issues) got sorted out.

The BAOA President, Jayant Nadkarni, reiterated that the association which is celebrating its fifth birthday, has been continuously working on how to fight the perception battle. At the conference it had a video presentation and has avowed itself to deal with this at different levels – seminars, reports, meetings with powers that be, etc. The association will soon be presenting a comprehensive report on the issues affecting the business aviation sector which is being done in association with Martin Consultancy.

Waiting for ‘big optics’ to fade

The BAOA President said that business aviation which had enormous potential was presently stagnating due to various issues. The projection that it would contribute Rs. 3,400 crore to the GDP between 2016-20 had been downsized to Rs. 2,300 crore due to growth stagnating. High input duties was one of the dampeners. “If the duty differential regime is removed, the business aviation fleet will grow,” Nadkarni said after the big optics of ‘5/20 rule, 160 airports development etc’ which the government was now seized of, it would be the turn of the general aviation / business aviation sector.

The Director General of the International Business Aviation Council (IBAC), Kurt Edwards said IBAC is to business aviation like what IATA (International Airport Transport Association) is to airlines. IBAC is working with the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in taking up several issues affecting the community and one of the priorities is aviation safety. International standards in safety, environment, etc, were being established and member organisations were working together to have them implemented.

Owner / Operator Narrates Benefits

The Chairman and Managing Director of the Saraya Group, Captain S.S. Majithia, who has over 6,000 hours of flying under his belt, made a splendid case for business aviation as a business tool and not a rich man’s toy. Recalling how his grandfather had stakes in pre-independent India, extending from Lahore to Delhi to Gorakhpur, Captain Majithia said in those days the trip is used to take three days and the last mile invariably used to be by road which were not really roads. It was in 1935 that the group bought a small airplane which did the journey in half a day with one fuel stop. “Our sugar unit in Gorakhpur survived because of the airplane as we could connect and ferry engineers and consultants quickly from plant to plant.”

He added: “The small airplane was never a wasteful expenditure. It is totally beyond me that it is a rich man’s toy.” Industries, he said, are increasingly being set up in backward regions as land is easily available and the only way to access these plants in quick time is through airplanes as the road network in most places are underdeveloped.” Despite the anguish, Captain Majithia said the industry should not despair but should strengthen the association to resolve issues. He mentioned how the sugar industry survived because of the sugar associations.

Panellists Rally on Points to Get Attention

There was consensus that though the National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) totally ignored business aviation segment, there were several issues in the NCAP which took care of general aviation / business aviation aspects and that the association had to educate those in power. Rohit Kapur, former President of BAOA and Managing Director of Arrow Aviation, who moderated the first session quizzed the panellists on whether the NCAP was a big departure from earlier instances; whether regional connectivity which was the buzzword was the policy initiatives enough to kick-start the sector; infrastructure issues, etc.

Amber Dubey, Head Aerospace & Defence, KPMG, complimented the government for the ‘big departure’ from the fourpage policy to a comprehensive once. Regional connectivity and MRO reforms were captured majorly in the NCAP. Though the NCAP does not specifically mention business aviation, the draft had several points and by extension it had implications on the business aviation segment. Nevertheless, he urged upon the industry to ‘engage, engage, engage’ with the government if it had to have a policy conducive for growth.

Dhiraj Mathur, Executive Director, PWC, said it is the beginning and there is need to leverage capacity as per the regional connectivity scheme. Though the budget does not have provisions for the sector, it was essential for the industry to interact with different ministries well in advance.

Confusing Terminologies

Captain M.K. Valsaraj, President & Chief Pilot, Deccan Charters and Colonel Sanjay Julka, Vice President, BAO & CEO, IndiaFly-Safe, were of the view that categorisation such as general aviation, business aviation, private operators, non-scheduled operators, etc, were terminologies which were confusing the authorities and others. There was need to simplify the categories. Captain Valsaraj was critical of the draft on helicopters stating that it was completely wide off the mark on several points. Group Captain R.K. Bali (Retd), Secretary of BAOA, talked about viability gap funding (VGF).

Arun Sharma, Managing Director, Aviators India, spoke about helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) and asked whether it was possible to grow this business with costing of Rs. 1.5 lakh per hour. There was need for landing of helicopters on site for HEMS to take off and hoped it would happen soon. Vinit Phatak, Managing Director, Invision Air asked ‘When are you happy in business aviation?’ and answered by saying “First when you buy the plane, and then when you sell it.” The charter aircraft business is not making money. Rajeev Wadhwa, CEO, Baron Aviation, said charters are primarily driven by metros and we are not reaching out to markets outside metro. Now thanks to app driven portals such as bookmycharters and Jet-SetGo, it was possible for anyone to get a charter from any part of the world. Nevertheless, he said it was imperative for operators to comply with the bookings. Kanika Tekriwal, CEO, Jet-SetGo, talked about how her company was making profits and that the industry should not get despondent.

Kapil Kaul of CAPA talked about developing institutional infrastructure which needed to be aligned to industry needs. Prashant Bhushan, CEO, Taj Air Metrojet Aviation, said the country was faced with inadequate manpower. Group Captain Pankaj Chopra, said there were 360 unused airports in the country and it was totally skewed towards five-six cities.

Tuesday, 15 March, 2016