Firm launches shared services in India with copters, planes

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Mumbai | September 18, 2018 4:37 AM

A new and differentiated product by private charter aviation company JetSetGo, on Monday launched shared air car services operating both inter and intra-city rides deploying helicopters and private jets.

Experts say the biggest challenge in India is the infrastructure and regulatory framework.

It is something like the Uber moment for the Indian skies as SkyShuttle, a new and differentiated product by private charter aviation company JetSetGo, on Monday launched shared air car services operating both inter and intra-city rides deploying helicopters and private jets.

The company that started operations in 2014 as a private charter planes operator is seeing its recent move as a precursor to getting the vertical take off and landing machines, or VTOLs, in India and also giving to its clients the electric plane experience where it sees itself expanding in the future.

“SkyShuttle product is a totally different product from the core product at JetSetGo. It is basically replicating cars with flying devices something that will take India be VTOL ready,” said Kanika Tekriwal, co-founder and CEO at JetSetGo. “There are 19 companies that offer the VTOL but there is not anyone in Asia and India as the infrastructure supporting this is still a challenge here,” she said.

The whole concept works on sharing economy basis with the idea being to seamlessly transport people. “Traffic on Indian roads is bad; as operators, we do not have the fastest possible mobility from one point to another in shortest possible time. With these air car services, we aim to enable that eco-system to get the country ready,” she said, a reason why Mumbai is picked to kickstart operations.

But for a company that garnered a lion’s share of private charter operations in India clocking in 4,600 hours last year with plans to increase to 7,000 hours this year on the back of shuttle services, the regulatory environment and flying zone restrictions specially in Mumbai and Delhi are a dampener.

“An important market like south Mumbai where the rich and famous live is a no-fly zone and so is most of Delhi. The company is in close discussion with the regulator to open up the market, look at Sau Paulo (small city in southeastern Brazil) it has 800 choppers and here we struggle to get to even 200 choppers in the country,” Tekriwal says.

Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at UK-based StrategicAero Research, said the biggest challenge for India is the infrastructure and regulatory framework to support such developments.

“India’s aerospace is arguably underdeveloped; to have a plethora of heli-services will mean an overhaul is needed to facilitate the idea. The technology for VTOL – vehicles already exists as we have seen in places like Dubai. The challenge is executing it all within today’s congested airspace and monetising it.

Neither of those elements right now suggests that it will either take off or make it in the long run given the hefty up-front costs needed to literally get these innovations off ground,” said Ahmad.

JetSetGo is in an expansion and fund-raise mode. With 24 leased machines in its fleet currently, it is looking to add another 22 by the end of 2019. Of these 22, 8 will be helicopters and 14 small planes. It is in the final stages of stitching up a deal for raising $50 million from private equity players by October end.

In this first phase of soft launch, with an initial investment of Rs 12 crore for 90 days, the company offers six heli-shuttle rides within Mumbai between Juhu-Tarapur and back, and also between the industrial town of Vapi and Juhu using a Bell-407 Helicopter. It will also connect Mumbai with Bangalore deploying the six-seater Beechcraft Premier1 aircraft.

But these chartered flights, even on a shared economy model will not come cheap and a customer will have to shell out anywhere between Rs 21,000-Rs 29,000 for Mumbai inter-city heli rides and anywhere between Rs 21,000 to Rs 52,000 for flying into Bangalore and Mumbai.

Pricing in this space is something that will be keenly contested by future air taxi services like Uber that has already announced plans to launch in India in 2023 cutting travel time by 90% and fares equal to its cabs.

A challenge, which will determine the success of these charter taxi services, according to Balu Ramchandran, head, air and distribution at online travel company Cleartrip. “At Rs 4,000 per seat there is a huge and ripe market in India for heli-taxi services but at Rs 50,000 the segment is very limited,” he said.

SkyShuttle has plans to launch another sector Bangalore – Cuddapa in October and add Chennai-Madurai, Kolkata-Jamshedpur and also look at smaller cities like Gurgaon, Manesar and Vijaywada based on feedback of its first round of services.

“Basically, we are looking at 40 points for both heli and plane services. We plan to enable helishuttle on call for fully legal four to five points in Mumbai by October end,” Tekriwal said, depending on how much they bleed in the intial 90 days of operations. On pricing, she said she believes in the Uber model, “How Uber made you fall in love with its product and then increased the prices, that exactly how it will work”.

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