Dubai: Want to spend the year-end in the UAE? Book a private jet… and that’s what wealthy Indians and Russians are doing just now. They will soon be followed by Israelis, as the Abraham Accords open up new opportunities for business and pleasure.
“Passengers have been benefitting from the air bubble to fly outbound from India to mainly the UAE, the UK and Maldives,” said Oliver Hewson, founder of Jet83 Advisory. “Some charter companies have recorded major increases in demand for business travel, holidays and medical evacuation.”
India still has tourist visa restrictions affecting the volume of inbound commercial flights into the country. However, ‘air bubble’ agreements with 22 countries means that citizens can use unscheduled and private flights, but with permission from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA). (Air bubble deals between countries allow fliers to travel without any restrictions imposed on them.)
Currently, flying out from Mumbai to Dubai on a private jet could be had for Dh11,000 or so. While rates have been ultra-competitive, they could turn pricier as the holiday season approaches and travellers make last-minute changes to their plans.
Russia and some of the other countries in the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) - Georgia, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Ukraine – are providing the inbound demand into the UAE. Private jets have been booked in advance to bring passengers to the UAE for the winter, said Hewson.
“Western Europe follows closely behind, with London being a constantly popular destination,” he said. “It is also encouraging to already see the positive effects of the Abraham Accords, with a significant amount of business jet traffic building between Tel Aviv and the UAE.”
The pandemic set off a surge in demand for private jets… and not just from the rich. They have been pressed into service to ferry those who have been stranded somewhere after commercial flights were stopped.
With health and safety concerns now at the forefront of air travel, private jet flying offers a safer environment, and where it is considerably easier to follow social distancing norms. But all of which comes at a price.
Booking a private jet from Moscow to Dubai in the second-half of this month comes to well over 30,000 euros. And one from Mumbai to Dubai would be in the 25,000 euro and plus range, depending on aircraft availability and demand. A seven-seater jet can be had for 30,000 plus euros from Tel Aviv.
That’s why private jet operators are not joining airlines in holding back on fleet additions. Demand still appears to be strong, with Airbus’ new ACJ 220 jet attracting a lot of interest from prospective buyers in the Middle East.
As a result of the pandemic crisis, “there was no negative impact on our backlog (or) on our deliveries,” said Stan Sphaberg, Airbus Corporate Jets Head of Commercial on the ACJ 220, during a media interaction last month.
While there are pockets of growth, the global picture is a bit more complicated.
“My view on this is that COVID-19 restrictions still make it difficult to cross borders,” said George Ferguson, aerospace and airline analyst at Bloomberg Intelligence. “What we are seeing is a rebound in private jet travel - but still below levels of last year.
“International private jet travel remains well below [the average].”
In the US, which is the largest business aviation market in the world, international travel is still down 28 per cent. “The challenge is we have an economic downturn for some countries combined with the pandemic,” added Ferguson.
But for those holiday travellers heading to the UAE to see off this year on private jets, that’s not going to be much of a distraction. Those can wait until the next year.