Dubai: An Indian businessman has spent around $55,000 (Dh202,290) to fly with his family, including his newly married daughter and her husband, from India to the UAE on a private jet due to the suspension of commercial passenger flights from India.
The 13 passengers, including four employees of P.D. Syamalan, managing director of Sharjah-headquartered Al Ras Group, flew in from Cochin International Airport in Kochi, Kerala, to Al Maktoum International Airport in Dubai on Friday.
A UAE resident for more than four decades, Syamalan had flown down to his hometown for the marriage of his daughter, Anju Syam, along with his family members and some employees, on March 15. Anju’s wedding with Siva Prasad, a Keralite residing in France, took place on April 25, just hours after the suspension of travel came into effect for passengers from India to the UAE.
Though he did not fall in the category of businessmen with the golden residency visa, Syamalan found solace that the UAE government had also announced travel exemption for those on flights chartered by businessmen. UAE citizens, officials of diplomatic missions appointed by the two countries and official delegations are also exempted from flying in from India during the travel suspension.
“We did not anticipate this travel suspension, but I had the trust in the UAE government and I knew there would be some solution for us to get back to our second home soon,” Syamalan told Gulf News on his arrival. He said he and his son Ajit Syam, the CEO of the group, began efforts to fly back soon after the announcement about further extension of travel suspension.
“Since we are a family-run business, all of us in the family, including my mother, sister and my wife, are senior executives and it would affect the business if we are not in town for long. That is why we wanted to rush back,” said Ajit.
Repeated tests, quarantine mandatory
Initially, he said, there was some confusion about passengers who were exempted to fly. However, he said he was finally able to get the necessary approvals to fly in his parents, his wife, daughter, parents-in-law (who are also UAE residents), his newly-wed sister and her husband (who is on a visit visa) and four employees who work at the family’s two villas.
Apart from the other documents needed for the journey, all of them had to produce RT-PCR negative test reports taken within 48 hours prior to departure. They are also required to be tested on arrival and again on the fourth and eighth days after arrival and be in home quarantine for ten days, according to the conditions set by the authorities.
“It shows the government has not completely shut travel and people with exemptions can afford to return soon by following the precautionary measures in place,” said Syamalan, whose group has businesses in three Gulf Cooperation Council countries, mainly dealing with auto air-conditioning accessories.
“I hope the COVID situation in India becomes better at the earliest and all those who are stuck back home will also be able to fly back to the UAE soon,” he added.
People rushing to fly back
Afi Ahmed, managing director of Smart Travel, who facilitated the family’s journey, said many Indian businessmen have been rushing to return or bring back their family members and employees from India to the UAE.
“We are getting many enquiries from people stuck in India, trying to fly back to the UAE. Many people here also want to bring their aged parents and other family members because they feel it is safe to be in the UAE now.”
Afi, who was among 13 Indian expats who spent Dh225,000 in total to charter a private jet from Kochi to Dubai during the travel suspension in July 2020, said there are hundreds of expats, including health-care workers, who are worried about their jobs getting affected due to the indefinite travel suspension.
“We hope the government will consider giving exemption to those who have urgent requirements to fly on commercial flights with all the extra precautionary measures announced for the already exempted categories. Since the flights from the UAE to India are not affected, they can fly on those flights returning to the UAE if they are exempted.”
Demand soars for private jets
While it would cost anywhere between Dh14,000 to Dh17,000 for individual passengers, chartering private jets would cost around $55,000 for a 13-seater and up to $62,000 for a 19-seater aircraft, according to operators and agents.
“There is a heavy demand [for private jets] now. At the same time, authorities have been strict about issuing approvals,” said Ahmed Shajeer, director of commercial at JetzHub. He said private jets with up to 35 seating capacity are allowed to carry a maximum of 19 passengers.
“Authorities are not encouraging pooling of [unrelated] passengers. We have also been told that visit visa holders can fly only if they are from the same family [of businessmen chartering the jets].”
He said a request seeking approval to operate 50-seat private jets has been submitted to the General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) to help companies fly back their employees on vacation.