Jet operators' 'poll' flight hit by parking crunch turbulence

The charter plane industry may be going through a purple patch due to extensive use of private jets and choppers by campaign-hopping politicians but the operators say their "booming business" has been affected to some extent by a crunch of parking slots at major airports like Mumbai and Delhi.

A number of leading charter operators said though they are having a "good time" because of elections, the problem of "shrinking" parking space has come out as a major area of "concern". 

According to industry figures, around 520 aircraft and choppers are currently in operation under non-schedule airline across the country and the total volume of business in the election season is likely to be between Rs 350-400 crore. 

The difficulty is more acute in places like Delhi and Mumbai airports as the operators of these have not increased the parking space for non-scheduled airlines for the past few years. 

R K Bali, Secretary of Business Aircraft Operator's Association (BAOA), an umbrella body of non-scheduled operators (NSOPs), said that a lack of policy framework on part of the government was impeding the growth of the sector and alleged that the problem of parking at Delhi airport was "artificially created".

"Currently the non-scheduled operators can park only 28-30 aircraft in Delhi airport which needs to be increased at least to 50 immediately considering the volume of business," he said. 

Critical of Delhi International Airport Ltd (DIAL), which runs the airport, Bali said it had five years back proposed to increase the parking space for private jets and choppers to 100, but nothing had been done so far. 

He said the parking space for private jets and choppers has been planned to be cut to 16 from 24 in terminal 2 of Chhatrapati Shivaji International airport at Mumbai. 

According to DGCA figures, 130 non-scheduled airlines are operating in India out of which 40 are big operators having four to five private jets which ferry people abroad also. 

Bali said there must be "balanced infrastructure development" to encourage charter plane operators as the sector has huge potential to grow further. 

He said BAOA is going to hold a meeting with the Delhi airport authorities within a month on the issue of parking. 

A leading non-schedule operator said lack of adequate infrastructure like helipads and runways in small cities was affecting the growth of the charter business, besides hurdles of parking space in major airports. 

"We need a long-term plan of action to encourage the charter industry so that it can expand its wings and contribute significantly to the economy," he said. 

Seeking reform in the sector, Bali said the government in 2007 had imposed a duty on import of aircraft which had a negative impact on the business. 

"This is a capital investment. You are not manufacturing the aircraft in India. Why are you putting custom duty on it? More aircraft coming to India will generate more employment in India. First create ability to manufacture aircraft and then gradually put the duties," said Bali. 

Another operator, who did not wish to be named, said the US and almost all Western countries have separate infrastructure and rules for the charter plane sector and India should take inspiration from those models. 

On the growing incidents of flouting of safety norms by pilots of private jets and choppers, the operator blamed it on politicians. 

"A pilot would always like to strictly follow the safety norms as at the end of the day he would be very careful about his own life. The pilots are not at fault. It is the politicians who pressurise them. That's the main problem," he said. 

The BAOA had earlier this month objected to DGCA's surprise checks on pilots saying its public observations "misrepresent the proven safety consciousness prevailing among NSOPs and private aircraft operators. During the past month, DGCA has been conducting surprise checks on non-schedule operators. 

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