Sachin Bajla is the managing director of the mining firm Dharni Sampada, a company that owns four manganese mines in the Ivory Coast, six blocks of uranium mines across 3,000 sq. km in Niger and two tantalite mines in Sierra Leone. He travels frequently to these destinations, but ask him about these countries’ airports and Bajla is stumped.
The 40-year-old industrialist flies an eight-seater Cessna Caravan, which is safely parked in Johannesburg, between his various mines in Africa. “I love my Cessna but it is exclusively for Africa; I spent Rs 15 crore on this plane. Now I’m planning to buy either a Bombardier or Cessna jet to be stationed in India,” he says.
Bajla represents a growing tribe of small- and medium-sized businesses and enterprises that are buying private jets, which were once the monopoly of multinational firms.
In a February report, the specialist consulting firm, Centre for Asia Pacific Aviation, said India’s general aviation sector could see new aircraft sales—business jets, helicopters, turboprops and piston engines—of up to $12 billion (around Rs 54 crore) over the next decade. By then the general aviation fleet is expected to reach 2,000, up from 680 now. An indication of the growth comes from figures over the last four years—aircraft dealers say India had around 100 jets in 2006, which had grown to 515 by last year.
“The mood is upbeat for buying small helicopters to larger jets,” says Karan Singh, vice-president, Business Aviation Association of India, an industry lobby that was recently recognized by the Union ministry of civil aviation. “The prices of business jets have come down by 35-50% from the peak of 2008. Indians are making the best out of this opportunity,” adds Singh.
Kalanithi Maran, promoter, chairman and managing director of southern India’s largest media group Sun TV and owner of low-fare carrier SpiceJet, will be one of the few in the country to own an ultra-luxury business jet. He has bought a Boeing which costs an estimated $60-85 million.
Among those using Boeing business jets in India are President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Kingfisher Airlines’ Vijay Mallya uses an Airbus corporate jet, while Mukesh Ambani of Reliance Industries gifted his wife Nita an Airbus jet in 2007. Jaypee Infratech is in talks to buy a Beechcraft King Air B200 GT, and automotive giant Mahindra and Mahindra is opting for a new Learjet 60 XR. And these are largely for personal use.