Importing foreign pilots to DIAL’s big brother role, seaplanes and more, the third-time chief of the association gets candid about aviation with Arpita Kala of SP’s Aviation
BAOA President Rohit Kapur says it how he sees it
Colonel Nathan R. Jessup (Jessup): You want answers? Daniel Kaffee (Kaffee): I want the truth! Jessup: You can’t handle the truth!
Remember this heated Jack Nicholson-Tom Cruise exchange from the movie A Few Good Men (1992)? Well, if you need some cold-hard facts about general aviation in your face, meet Rohit Kapur, the President of Business Aircraft Operators Association (BAOA). Even finance minister Arun Jaitley couldn’t dodge Kapur’s truth-attack in the form of an open letter written in 2015 that began with “One more year for the hype of the Union Budget and one more year of disappointment for the Aviation Industry! So what’s new?”
Fast-forward three years and things are more or less the same. He says, “There is nothing to speak about the budget as long as we are concerned, honestly. They are not treating us (business aviation sector) in any way, not motherly, not stepmotherly, not fatherly...I mean there wasn’t even a mention about us in the budget. So, it doesn’t matter. It’s disappointing, but then this budget is focused on a different segment of the society, so we aren’t surprised.”
SP’s Aviation (SP’s): Has your open letter to Arun Jaitley in 2015 brought any changes?
Kapur: That open letter to Mr Jaitley was something that came to my mind one fine day. I was thinking ‘How do I approach him... can I go meet him? He’ll probably not give me an appointment’ and then I wrote the open letter, I am given to understand that he did read it.
We understand that government policies don’t change overnight, it takes time. So, our job is to raise awareness for the government and tell them what our peeve points are. Ministry of Finance (MoF) has their internal compulsions. So, even if they hear and understand us, it’s not every time that they can act on it. After all, we are considered the body that represents the issues of the ultra-high net-worth people, who use and own planes. There is a mindset that these are the people who can be taxed and you can take more money from them.
Our own requirements also change over time. Today ATF (aviation turbine fuel) is not a big pain-point, I think now we would like the ministry to address the infrastructure. All airports are full to capacity, they have overshot what they were designed for and the collateral damage of this has been general aviation. The airlines get first priority in terms of parking slots, landing etc and we get relegated in the background because we’re not considered a public service.
SP’s: What about the infrastructure plans for the RCS schemes?
Kapur: RCS is a great initiative, don’t get me wrong, but it’s meant for a particular segment and the government is catering to them. Business or corporate aviation is not about the hawai chappal people with all due respect, because they are not the people who travel in our aircraft. Our jets are used by business leaders, politicians and even for religious tourism, air ambulance, so it’s not really the need of a common man. RCS will do well but whether it will trickle down to grow our industry vis-à-vis infrastructure remains a big question mark. I am not so optimistic because it is not set up for the kind of audience we cater to.
SP’s: So, the posh tag associated with BA is not a stigma?
Kapur: It is an absolute stigma and we are trying for years to get the perception of the government right.
SP’s: But you did say that BA caters to a luxurious clientele...
Kapur: Luxurious clientele is a word that can be used loosely. We would like to say that business aviation is a tool for economic development, used by business leaders of the country. These people travel to the interiors of the country to their factories, plants that are not easily connected by commercial air or train or road. Forget the domestically, a lot of Indian companies have gone global and they have to travel to these places where they have projects going which aren’t easily accessible. So, BA is actually an enhancer to give flexibility to our business leaders in terms of their time management and you know, time is money. And, if they manage their time better, they will add to the productivity of the country. This is how we want the government to look at BA.
SP’s: Tell us about the issues that BAOA has been successful in resolving since its inception?