Regional Report Asia: India – a market in waiting

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Air Partner is pioneering a new approach by working alongside a local luxury travel specialist to meet the needs of prospective charter clients

Charter broker Air Partner may use a strategic partnership, established in India earlier this year, as a template for other developing private aviation markets if the model proves successful.
In June, UK-based Air Partner announced it was joining forces with India’s InterGlobe Enterprises, a specialist in corporate and luxury travel. The broker aims to serve the growing number of private aviation users on the Subcontinent through InterGlobe’s recently relaunched business aviation subsidiary, which trades as THE ESTD (“the established”) and markets luxury yachts, sports cars and aircraft to high net worth individuals and corporate clients.

Air Partner already has 20 offices in 17 countries, but has previously pushed into new areas through standard agency agreements or by putting in its own people. CEO Mark Briffa says: “India has a large population with a rapidly expanding economy. THE ESTD is an ideal partner, with its strong brand, knowledge and understanding of India’s corporate and luxury travel sectors. This partnership gives Air Partner a great platform from which to launch services and products into a growing and lucrative marketplace.”

Among many other activities, THE ESTD sells LET turboprops on an exclusive basis in south Asia. Last March, it sold India’s first LET 410s to Asia Aviation and Turbo Aviation, the customers respectively taking three and one of the 19-seat aircraft. THE ESTD also markets Hawker Beechcraft, Pacific Aerospace and Dornier Seaplane aircraft, together with Sikorsky helicopters.

The agreement with Air Partner enabled THE ESTD to achieve its objective of expanding into the charter sector. Nigel Harwood, president and CEO, says: “With the Indian economy on a growth trajectory, there has been an increase in corporate travel needs and hence the demand for private air charter is expected to grow. The partnership will enable us to meet this demand in the most effective way, as customers will have access to the broadest range of aviation services and operators backed by logistical excellence, value for money and dependability”.

Chester: We might have reached the same end point, but we would have been on a longer learning curve

Warren Chester, a former Deloitte consultant brought in by Air Partner as director of international strategy, admits the company has had a mixed track record in new markets. It has been pretty successful in Russia but perhaps could have tackled eastern Europe differently, he says. “If you don’t understand the local politics and culture, it’s harder to identify and hire the right people.”

Going solo into India would have been the wrong approach, Chester says. “Our connections in the market were poor. THE ESTD has a high-quality database of 15,000 names. It is selling these individuals and companies other things, scheduling phone calls and making face-to-face visits on a scale that would be impossible for a foreign company setting upon its own. We might have reached the same end point, but we would have been on a longer learning curve.”

THE ESTD has put in place a dedicated charter resource, helped in the formative stages by Air Partner personnel from the company’s Dubai operation who are attending client meetings and training the local team to bring them up to speed on the logistics of air charter.

“They do the front end and pass leads to us if the client is going outside the country. Internationally, we do the broking, but for a local flight, they would source the capacity,” Chester says. “They have sold a lot of aircraft. They know the owners and where the planes are.”

Air Partner has secured only a handful of international charters, from India to the US and Europe, since entering the partnership. “We have had high volumes of enquiries but low levels of conversion. Some were ‘fluff’ and some were no doubt competitors, but this is what we expected. It’s a long-term investment,” Chester says.

Although pre-paid jet cards could have potential in the longer term as a convenience, lifestyle product, he comments that India is a price-driven market and clients like to negotiate. However, the market is definitely ripe for Air Partner’s parallel Commercial Jets service, through which customers needing to move larger groups can charter airliners from 20 up to 500 seats.

The partnership model is unique in Air Partner at the moment. “But it’s a way that we could explore other developing markets in Asia, and possibly Africa and Latin America, where there can be high barriers to entry,” Chester says.

The company’s next step will most likely be further east. “China is the top of everybody’s list, but is still an embryonic private charter market with a shortage of good quality supply except in Hong Kong, which is a more highly developed, mature market.

“We have GSA-style agency relationships there, as have had for some years in Japan and Singapore,” he says. “We could consider acquisitions or put our own people on the ground in those markets, but we’re not in a desperate hurry. The markets are still evolving from a very low base and we don’t see too many of our competitors making very much money.”