The Election Commission’s ban on physical rallies in five poll-bound states since January 8 due to the third wave of COVID-19 infections has hit charter flight operators. Election-travel has not picked up at all.
Charter flight operators told PTI that about 10 to 15% of the 350-400 flight hours per month are election-related travel at this stage. Rajan Mehra, CEO of Club One Air, said election travel has not really picked up. “It had started to pick up initially, around mid-December, but then the EC announced the ban on rallies so that completely stopped most of the election-related travel,” he said. “Election travel is limited.”
Kanika Tekriwal, CEO and Founder of JetSetGo Aviation, told PTI that as there is a ban on rallies due to COVID-19, the company has seen only 70% of inquiries for election-related travel this year as compared to last year. “However, no inquiry has been actually converted in actual flights as of yet and their conversion is in process,” she said. “Since ban on physical rallies have been extended, we don’t see much flights happening for elections this time for rallies.”
The EC has announced a ban on physical rallies, roadshows and bike rallies, and similar campaign events till January 15. But the Commission extended the ban until January 22, which now has been extended to January 31.
However, the Club One Air CEO pointed out that the overall scenario for business aviation (charter flight operations) has been very good. “Right after the first COVID-19 wave, safety has become an issue of paramount importance beyond luxury or anything else,” Mehra noted. “There has been a regularity of travel in private jets. So before COVID-19, if we would on an average see around 150-200 flying hours per month, that has gone up to 350-400 flight hours per month.”
Mehra believes it might pick up once the EC announces removing the ban on rallies, but right now it is 10 to 15% for most operators. He said that in 2021, the election season brought about 30 to 40% of travel for election rallies. Tekriwal said JetSetGo Aviation used to achieve its major numbers from business travel before the pandemic. However, leisure travel brings the major share of business right now. “We have received a positive response from our customers towards our Fly Safe commitment to maintaining the COVID-19 protocol standards and experiencing a sharp increase in leisure travel bookings which is continuing now also.”
She shared that business travel requests have started showing positive resumptions, which are slowly getting back to usual.