While Zoom, Webex, and other virtual meeting platforms have stopped CXOs from hopping on to a private jet every other week, a new customer base has emerged that wants to fly on private jets in India. “You will be amazed, startup founders are flying private,” says Kanika Tekriwal, founder and CEO, JetSetGo Aviation—a leading operator and aggregator of private jets in the country. “That was a trend that we had never seen,” adds Tekriwal, whose firm has just added a $2.5 million Hawker 800 XP aircraft to its fleet. The average cost of a one-way private jet flight in India is between ₹6 and ₹7 lakh.

Pre-Covid-19, nearly 70% of the private jet industry in India was dominated by business customers, such as CXOs and heads of multinational companies and domestic conglomerates. Now, though, that segment isn’t flying. As Tekriwal explains, “If I had 10 customers who flew 500 hours with me, they are now flying 50 hours because they are only travelling when there is a necessity.” But there are 20 other customers, she says, who earlier had the money to charter a private jet but didn’t, “have now started travelling private.” This, according to her, has increased the customer base and quantum of flying private by 10% to 15%.

Besides, the number of customers taking a private jet for a leisure trip has almost doubled for JetSetGo since January 2020. “When the Maldives opened in December last year, everyone was running there on private jets. Now it's Dubai. In India, Goa, Rajasthan, and Kerala are the top leisure destinations,” says Tekriwal. The Indian HNI (high-net-worth individual) audience, she says, has finally opened up to the idea of flying on private jets. “Yes, there is lower business travel demand, but it will be compensated by leisure and a new customer base.”

Commenting on startup founders flying private, Tekriwal admits that it isn’t the founders of unicorns — startups valued at over a billion dollars — that are jetting about. “It’s anyone who can write a cheque right now,” she says. Indian startups received about $6.5 billion in funding in the April-June 2021 quarter, according to a report by Nasscom-PGA Labs. While 11 of them entered the coveted unicorn club, about 100 startups received early-stage funding. “Investors are finding this acceptable and are at ease with the way founders spend money,” adds Tekriwal.

Meanwhile, JetSetFleet Management Services—the leasing arm of JetSetGo Aviation—has imported a Hawker 800 XP aircraft from the United Kingdom. It is the first Indian leasing company to directly import an aircraft—after the Ministry of Finance established a framework for aircraft leasing in the country and tax sops were granted to shift the leasing business from Ireland or other locations to India, more specifically, to the International Financial Services Centre (IFSC) in GIFT City, Gandhinagar, Gujarat. “With this initiative, we want to ensure that leasing of aircraft becomes feasible in India. We are planning to bring in at least six aircraft by the end of 2021-22, and by the end of 2022, we will also look at leasing planes to international locations,” says Tekriwal.

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