Business Standard

Sky-high demand: Politician­s drive helicopter rates up 15-20%

BJP, Congress dominate advance bookings, helicopter charter firms say


In the dizzying dance of democracy, where power is pursued fervently through every available means, India’s political landscape is taking to the skies.

As the Lok Sabha elections approach, helicopter­s have become the chariots of choice for politician­s navigating the turbulent currents of electoral excitement. The rhythmic thump of rotor blades is being preferred over congested roads.

But this aerial ascent isn’t without a price. Like stocks in a bullish market, the rates for charter helicopter­s have also soared, marking a 15-20 per cent increase compared to six-odd months ago.

Sources in the industry say every available chopper has already been booked months in advance, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress dominating the order book. Compared to the 2019 general elections, helicopter charter companies have recorded a multifold increase in both demand and rates, they add.

Currently, the rate for single-engine helicopter­s is around $18

(about ~1,500) a minute, while for twin-engine choppers, it is around $35 (about ~3,000) a minute. The majority of the bookings have been from Delhi, sources say.

The demand for private jets has, however, remained stagnant, so their rates haven’t changed much in about a year, says Kanika Tekriwal, founder and chief executive officer of Jetsetgo, one of the largest charter flight operators in India. “Commercial connectivi­ty via airlines across India remains robust. During an election season, politician­s prefer to use commercial airliners for engaging with people,” she adds.

Helicopter rates, by comparison, have surged by 15 per cent compared to six to 12 months ago, Tekriwal adds. This is due to a shortage of twin-engine helicopter­s in India coupled with high demand. Consequent­ly, there’s a premium on helicopter­s this election season.

Based on data from the Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI), a not-for-profit that works for the helicopter industry, India currently has about 254 charter helicopter­s, compared to around 15,000 in the United States. With 190 of these committed to public sector endeavours, defence operations, corporate ventures and offshore missions, barely 60-70 are available for the high-stakes Indian election.

“There are no helicopter­s available several months in advance. Most of the machines were booked six months ago,” says A S Butola, president, RWSI.

West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee had raised this point in August 2023 when she said that the BJP had already booked all helicopter­s in advance for this year’s Lok Sabha elections.

“The BJP has booked all helicopter­s ahead of the Parliament elections so that no other party can get any. This is their state. They think that money can buy anything,” she had said.

Sources say with the helicopter­s all claimed, some political parties are not getting to hire even one.

“For VIP travels, normally twinengine choppers are used,” says Bineesh Paul, mission controller of India at Charter Flights Aviation, a Chennaibas­ed provider of private jet services. “A helicopter usually flies around 40 hours in a month. During the election season, it flies 80 or 90 hours, and even more. This is what is adding to our revenue,” he adds.

The rate for single-engine helicopter­s is around ~1,500 a minute, while for twin-engine choppers it is around ~3,000 a minute

In Chennai, a private jet can be rented for ~3.4 lakh to ~6.4 lakh per hour. Rentals for singleengi­ne helicopter­s start at ~1.2 lakh per hour and for twin-engine choppers, ~2.86 lakh per hour. Key players in India’s helicopter industry include Pawan Hans, Global Vectra, Heligo Charters and Heritage Aviation.

“This (Lok Sabha elections) is a once-in-five-years bonanza,” says Amit Dutta, cofounder and managing director, Blade India, one of the country’s largest copter operators. The shortage, he adds, is compounded by the fact that 80 per cent of the copters in India are engaged by the oil and gas sector.

As the country’s political elite takes to the skies in pursuit of power, the soaring rates and scarcity of copters underscore the frenzy of India’s election season.

 ?? PHOTO: PTI ?? Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh CM and BJP leader, arrives for a public meeting ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in Pilibhit on Tuesday
PHOTO: PTI Yogi Adityanath, Uttar Pradesh CM and BJP leader, arrives for a public meeting ahead of the Lok Sabha elections in Pilibhit on Tuesday

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