One of the key ingredients of a grand political coup such as the one on display in Maharashtra is speed. Discreet group movement of elected leaders, who are easily recognisable faces, requires a lot of secrecy and planning. By design, private charted jets become the ultimate choice for such high-stake political operations that involve quick and luxurious transportation across states. More than 30 legislatures from the ruling alliance in Maharashtra have been flown from their home state Maharashtra to Assam via Gujarat over past two days using commercially hired jets. So how much should such a high-flying operation from Mumbai to Guwahati via Surat cost?
At around 2:40 am on Wednesday, a Boeing 737 MAX 8 took off from Surat airport for a 3 hours 41 minutes journey to Guwahati with Maharashtra minister Eknath Shinde and group of his rebel Shiv Sena MLAs. The 189-seater jet was hired from commercial aircraft carrier SpiceJet exclusively for this purpose. A typical MAX 8 is about 129 feet and 6 inches long and 117 ft 10 inches wide. The airline operates 13 such models which have maximum range of 6,500 km.
Data from commercial flight tracking service Flightradar24 shows that apart from the large jet hired from SpiceJet, two additional smaller business jets flew to Guwahati since the crisis began in Maharashtra. Hours after the first Boeing jet landed at Guwahati airport, a smaller Learjet 45XR business jet landed with another group of Shiv Sena MLAs, including Nitin Deshmukh, who later returned back to the Udhdhav Camp and claimed that he was forcibly taken. The 8-seater business jet took off from Bhopal and reached Guwahati at 10:15 am with the Sena MLAs. Later pictures released by Shinde camp MLAs establish a group of Sena MLAs inside a Learjet 45XR. According to commercial data, the jet stayed at the airport only for about 45 minutes before leaving for Nagpur.
Flight records reviewed by India Today TV also establish another business jet Hawker 800XP flying from Surat to Guwahati on Thursday morning, coinciding with visual confirmation of arrival of more MLAs to the hotel hosting Shiv Sena rebels.
Cost of Hiring Jets
Industry experts familiar with handling such operations tell India Today TV that the cost of hiring such jets depend on several factors, ranging from origin and destination, routes, number of passengers, fuel prices, availability to weather conditions, etc. An industry source familiar with the recent activities concerning transfer of Maharashtra MLAs told India Today TV that hiring of the 8-seater Hawker 800XP -- that brought a small group of rebel MLAs to Guwahati on Thursday morning -- costs about Rs 35 lakh.
The same source placed the estimated cost of hiring a large Boeing 737 MAX 8-used on Wednesday morning -- to be approximately Rs. 60 to 65 lakh. Since Surat and Guwahati do not have any aircrafts positioned, the jets need to be ferried from somewhere else, raising the overall cost.
According to Santosh K Sharma, founder of Bookmyjet, a private Aircraft and Helicopter Charter Company, "It [the price] depends on where the aircraft is coming from. In this case, the hawker has flown from Hyderabad to Surat to Guwahati".
Explaining the standard industry rates, Sharma explained that apart from the route, fuel prices, Airport Ground handling charges, boarding, lodging and local transportation of the crew (in case of night halt) are also considered by the operators. According to Sharma, a typical standard rate for the Surat-Guwahati Boeing 737 charter is approximately Rs. 40 lakh whereas standard rate for smaller business jets is approximately Rs. 17 lakh and 18 per cent GST for one way and double the amount, assuming that it'd return following the same route. A Learjet 45XR costs almost same or slightly less than the Hawker 800 XP. The Boeing jet that flew the large group of Shiv Sena MLAs to Guwahati has since flown to Amritsar, Kutaisi (in Georgia) and Rome.
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