Private jet demand for UAE-India routes hit after aviation regulator sets tough conditions

Stock jet
On all incoming private jet flights into the UAE from COVID-19 hotspots, travellers must be from the same family or company. ‘Pooling’ will not be allowed. (Image used for illustrative purposes) Image Credit: Shutterstock

Dubai: Private jet demand between UAE and India has taken a big hit after the UAE placed severe restrictions on chartered flights using these services.

It was last week that the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) warned operators selling seats individually on UAE-bound chartered flights from COVID-19 hotspots will be banned from flying in the country. “When business aircraft are used to transport passengers from restricted destinations, they shall not be pooled or sold per seat,” said the regulator in the circular. “Operators hired for pooling or ‘per seat offer’ may be banned from operation in the UAE”

Book the whole jet

This means that individual passengers will now have to splurge $30,000 to $50,000 to book a whole aircraft, while in the past they could get a seat only for $4,000. This will definitely affect demand for private jets, said the head of an India-based operator, who said her company’s private jet movements fell to a third of levels seen the recent past.

“Earlier, we were getting 20-25 inquiries a day, and we were probably performing four to five flights – now, the queries are 4-5, and we’ve been doing maybe one flight,” said Kanika Tekriwal, CEO of JetSetGo Aviation.

Taking the blame

Although flight operators are responsible for taking passengers from point A to point B, flight tickets are sold by travel agents who often act in their own best interests. “When we get a booking, we don’t know if it’s a travel agent selling seats – or if it’s a family booking through a travel agent,” said Tekriwal. “Ultimately, we are the end operator.”

To follow the latest UAE requirements, JetSetGo is making sure passengers on board a private jet either belong to the same family or company. “We also take a letter in that regards from the passenger confirming the same – there’s only so much you can do, people who still want to lie will continue lying,” said Tekriwal.

Build up

The GCAA’s move might seem sudden to many, but industry insiders saw it coming from a mile off. To put a stop to the practice of selling individual seats, the regulator initially capped the seating capacity of UAE-bound private jets to 19 – and then brought it down to a mere eight.

When even these measures did not work, GCAA issued its latest warning and it looks like everyone will have to comply. “Any operator concerned about their license won’t do it – you don’t mess with the regulator,” said Tekriwal.

Good step

The move comes as demand for private flying between India and UAE surged. Last month, UAE placed a ban on all passenger flights from India due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.

“In my opinion, this is a sensible and logical restriction because it prevents travellers mixing from different households, from ‘high-risk’ countries of origin for COVID-19,” said Oliver Hewson, founder of Jet83 Advisory. “Especially when they will be in close proximity to each other in a business jet cabin.

“The chartering guidelines have to be as controlled as possible for the authorities to control the safety of business jet charters arriving in the country. They have also stipulated in Safety Decision 2021-02 that the number of passengers on a business aircraft arriving into the UAE must be limited to eight passengers or less.”