Private jet makers target India's super-rich

The growing list of billionaires in India is an enticing prospect for executive jet makers seeking to recover from a slump in demand caused by the global financial crisis.

Prominent among exhibitors at the ongoing Aero India 2011 air show in Bangalore were manufacturers such as US-based Gulfstream and Brazil's Embraer - both hoping to seduce corporate high-flyers with their luxury private planes.

The global private jet market had a hard landing in 2008-09, with jet prices plunging by up to 30 percent and actual flying time falling by an estimated 40 percent.

But India's fast-growing economy minted 17 new billionaires in 2010, driving the total to a record 69, according to Forbes magazine's list of the world's wealthiest individuals.

The country's richest man, Mukesh Ambani, reportedly gifted his wife a $60 million Airbus, complete with entertainment cabins and showers, for her birthday in 2007.

Jose Eduardo Costas, vice president of Asia sales for Embraer, said the Brazilian firm had a host of orders lined up.

"A private jet is not a Ferrari or a luxury boat. It's a business tool and the market here realises that," he said.

"Five of our aircraft are already with the government and four with private companies, and in the next three years we will be making 30 deliveries of our jets."

Gulfstream said there were 17 of its aircraft in India by the end of last year, up from just five in 2001, adding that 12 of them were large-cabin models including the G550, which has a range of 12,000 kilometres (7,500 miles).

"We see great long-term potential in the Indian market as infrastructure for business aviation expands and government officials focus more on this segment," said Roger Sperry, Gulfstream's senior vice-president for international sales.

According to figures from aviation data firm JetNet, new business jet deliveries to the wider Asia-Pacific region grew from 7.0 percent of the world market in 2007 to 12 percent in 2009.

JetNet cited India as having the second-largest fleet in the region, with 143 business aircraft of all sorts - a sign of the country's growing presence in the top-end luxury goods market.

Cessna Aircraft Co. set up shop four years ago in Bangalore and industry experts say the Kansas-based manufacturer leads its private jet competitors in India.

"India is important to Cessna and the expanding economy should soon support a robust business aircraft fleet and infrastructure," said Cessna's vice president for international sales, Trevor Esling.

He declined to give details of orders the company has on hand or the number of planes delivered, but said: "By 2025 I would expect India to be in the top 10 individual countries for business jet ownership outside the United States."