Air charter demand soars with 81-day Lok Sabha poll schedule

The 2024 Lok Sabha election is not just an on-ground battle; it’s also transforming the skies into a contest for air charters. With an extended 81-day election schedule, spanning from April 19 to June 1, the demand for chartered planes and helicopters has soared higher than ever before. The formation of new political parties and the split within existing ones has further fuelled the demand for charters.

As election campaigning ramps up, there will be a surge in the use of chartered planes and helicopters, say industry players. According to Rajan Mehra, CEO of Club One Air, their aircraft typically fly 275-300 hours a month. However, this is expected to increase to 450 hours in April and May due to the elections and regular charters. Mehra mentioned that two of their five Falcon 2000 jets and a Cessna Citation aircraft have already been booked for election charters.

Higher demand

“Demand for charters is higher compared to previous years because of the increase in political parties. In Maharashtra, there was a demand from four parties in 2019 (Shiv Sena, BJP, Congress and NCP). Now with the split in parties, there is a separate requirement for charters from both the factions of Sena and NCP,” said Mandar Bharde, Managing Director of MAB Aviation Pvt Ltd, a charter operator and broker.

Nisha Sharma, Director, Velocity Charter Pvt Ltd, mentioned that in Maharashtra, helicopters and aircraft were initially booked until May 15. However, with the last round of polling scheduled for May 20, flying will now extend beyond May 15 as well.

Political parties typically rely on charter brokers to book aircraft for election campaigning, with bookings made months in advance for 45-60 days or longer. Payment is based on minimum guaranteed hours of utilisation or actuals.

Demand for twin-engine helicopters remains high among VVIPs, including central and State cabinet ministers, due to government guidelines. However, their availability is limited, leading to a 20-40 per cent increase in charter rates. Rates have risen from ₹3-4 lakh per hour to ₹4-5 lakh per hour

Business uptick

“There are around 180 helicopters under non-scheduled operator permit and around 115 of them are twin-engine variants. Of them, only around 40 would be available for election flying as others are deployed in offshore operations or with states on long-term contracts. There are some helicopters which are in captive use and are not available for charters. As such the rates could even be substantially higher than 40 per cent especially for late bookings,” a helicopter industry expert remarked. Even single-engine helicopter operators are seeing a business uptick.

Wanghchuk Shamshu, director of Himalayan Heli Services Pvt Ltd, stated, “We operate regular services to pilgrimage towns in Uttarakhand with our H125 helicopters from May. There is barely any utilisation in March or April as the pilgrimage season only starts in May. Our single-engine helicopters are booked for election flying in March and April, so it’s a good season for us.”

On ground too steps have been taken for effective coordination. Pawan Hans, which has deployed six helicopters for election charters, has set up a control room and put in place standard operating procedures for these flights. Pawan Hans is also paying a special daily allowance to its pilots for election flying, it is learnt.

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