Friday, February 02, 2007

Private jet traffic to India soars as business booms

Corporate honchos flying into India in their private jets are set to almost triple in the next couple of years as the country emerges as a top destination for fast growing business, says the world's leading executive in the general aviation business.

'Last year we handled close to 800 flights to India. Our projections are that there will be more than 2,000 flights in 2009. Certainly, India is the flavour and it will not be long before it overtakes China,' says Greg Evans, CEO of the Houston-headquartered Universal Weather and Aviation, the world's leading private jet management company.

Evans said private and business jet traffic to India had been growing at a healthy 25-30 percent over the past three years and was set for an exponential increase.

'India is getting the attention of some of the senior most executives of various international corporations as business opportunities are opening up across a host of sectors,' Evans, on a busy schedule here while meeting up with officials in the civil aviation ministry, told IANS in an interview.

With a formidable clientele that includes almost all the Fortune 500 companies, Universal Weather also provides end-to-end trip support services to celebrities and heads of corporations from sectors as diverse as automobiles, retail, pharma to oil and gas.

The encouraging air traffic has prompted Universal to open up an Indian subsidiary - Universal Weather & Aviation India Pvt Ltd - that will work closely with licensed operators to perform meet-and-greet services for its international customers at various airports across the country.

Currently, all private aircraft and their passengers are handled along with passengers off commercial aircraft taking up to an hour to clear the terminal.

Universal has held meetings with ministry officials and airport authorities in both New Delhi and Mumbai to explore ideas for independent handling of private aircraft.

'The response and welcome has been heartening. Clearly, the time has come for world-class facilities and handling of corporate aircraft,' said Evans.

When decisions worth millions of dollars rest on the outcome of business visits, private aircraft travel is no longer considered a luxury.

'A group of senior executives can effectively make several stopovers in a day and take meetings in cities as far apart as Singapore, Delhi, Dubai and London all on the same day. The time savings and opportunity costs of a group of senior executives collectively far outweigh the actual payout for such seemingly luxurious travel,' said Evans.

His father, Tom Evans, a former US Air Force officer and meteorologist, founded Universal in 1959.

Over the past five decades, Universal has evolved into a company facilitating an estimated 25,000 successful trips around the world for more than 4,000 clients annually.

Most private aircraft need trip support both within and outside the country such as flight planning, weather reports, touch down and over-fly permissions, landing permissions and customs and immigration clearance support.

'We already work with most Indian corporates that own private aircraft and travel abroad frequently and we plan to pick up more of the business as traffic from India picks up,' said Evans.

As per industry estimates, Indian Inc placed orders for anywhere between 110-150 private corporate jets in 2006, both for personal and official use.

Asked about the implications of this growth in air traffic, Evans said: 'Internationally we work with airport operators to set up separate terminals for private aircraft. There are parking and scheduling issues, and all of this needs to be managed effectively.

'Corporate chieftains want quick processing on landing and take off and internationally the best time we have clocked is 15 minutes to collect baggage, clear customs, immigration and out of the airport, though on average it takes around 30 minutes,' Evans conceded.

Copyright Indo-Asian News Service

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