Bangalore, July 12: Why drive, when you can fly' It’s a question Ram Pattisapu is asking top techies.
Small flying machines are on display bang in the middle of upscale Bangalore, waiting to be bought.
The price: For a two-seater, it’s Rs 40 lakh or Rs 48 lakh, depending on the model. For a four-seater, it goes up to Rs 80 lakh. Add Rs 70,000 for insurance and Rs 45,000 for annual maintenance. That’s still less than the Rs 95 lakh a Mercedes M-Class SUV costs.
If you don’t know how to fly, no problem, says Ram. Flying lessons come with the aircraft, at no extra cost.
The surgeon-turned-aviation inveterate, who is president of Indus Aviation, set up shop in the city last month after a successful run in Dallas.
The choice of location for his showroom ' Koramangala, home to the likes of Infosys top gun Nandan Nilekani and several software companies ' gives away his target customers.
Ram has eyes set on the infotech sector, particularly high net worth individuals from organisations such as Honeywell, Infosys Technologies and Tata Consultancy Services (TCS).
“We have got 50 proposals (enquiries-since the showroom opened on June 10) from some individuals, flying clubs and schools. Some of these will end up as a sales transaction soon,” he claims.
“We have made presentations to certain IT companies for ownership and corporate flying clubs. I put it (the aircraft) in the middle of the city as any person with a passion for flying can come here and take a look.”
To make the aircraft easier to buy, Ram has turned to ICICI Bank and Citibank.
“We have spoken to the banks’ representatives here and in Mumbai for loans just like in the automotive sector with a down payment of 20 per cent and the rest repayable over 20 years. In case of a default, we (the company) will spruce up the aircraft and market it in the US to recover the dues,” he said.
Techies who can’t afford to buy a plane but plan to join a flying club that gets one will be offered a discount, if they do a spot of volunteer work. The company plans to launch a “build a plane” project where children from orphanages will learn about aircraft design and manufacturing. Anyone who helps out with the training will get a discount at the flying club.
Buyers also have the option of forming a syndicate to acquire the plane. This is an option the IT industry could be looking at. “That’s the global trend because it makes economic sense. Let’s see how it works here,” said T.V. Mohandas Pai, CFO and director, Infosys.
A senior consultant with TCS echoed him: “This will be an inexpensive on-call aircraft for most of us in the industry. We can chip in and own one for travel at short notice even to towns and rural parts of the country.”
A trip to Mysore, a tech training hub 140 km away where Infosys has its biggest campus, will take less than an hour and cost around Rs 1,000 in fuel. The plane, with a fuel capacity of 80 litres, guzzles 18 litres in an hour. The price per litre is around Rs 55. At present, a trip to Mysore has to be made by road because there are no flights and takes three-and-a-half to four hours.
S. Gopalakrishnan, COO and member of the Infosys board, said: “These small aircraft give us (IT companies) the option to touch down at places that are not covered by commercial flights. We could even use them to fly our customers to holiday destinations or let those who are aviation buffs fly to nearby places.”
The aircraft on display, Thorp T-211 ' a twin-seater light and sport aircraft, has received an airworthiness certificate from the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) in the US. It can take off and land on fields measuring 350-400 feet and cruise at a top speed of 212 km an hour.
The FAA certification would mean an automatic stamp of approval by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
Pattisapu is aiming high. “We plan to sell a dozen to 15 aircraft here and thrice the number in the US this year. Our target is to sell at least 100 aircraft across the world by 2006-end. In the US, we sold 16 T-211s after receiving the FAA certification in April 2005,” he said.
In India, the aircraft will be manufactured under an agreement with Taneja Aerospace and Aviation Ltd (TAAL), at Hosur, 30 km from here.
In addition, the company will start an aviation academy complete with simulators here and trainer aircraft positioned at Hosur. Another course in avionics ' for maintenance and operation support of aircraft and airport development ' will start later this year. The fee for a private pilot licence will be Rs 3 lakh and for a commercial pilot licence Rs 9 lakh.
C.G. Krishnadas Nair, the president of the Society of Indian Aerospace Technologies and Industries, said such aircraft will help revive interest in aviation. “The corporates can buy them through a consortium approach, but it is for the DGCA to simplify the procedures ' just as simple as driving a car out of a showroom.”