India is bizav land of opportunity, but deals don’t come easy

 - March 26, 2011, 6:30 AM

The market for business aircraft in India is wide open and set to grow at a rate of about 13 percent each year over the next decade, according to Alok Wadhawan, a manager with the structured finance division of South African bank Investec. According to Wadhawan, there are currently 143 business jets registered in India (more than China’s tally of 116) but this fleet is set to grow quickly in parallel with the rapid expansion of personal and corporate wealth. The country also has 238 helicopters, which are used mainly for offshore energy industry support and VIP charter flights.

Wadhawan claimed that Investec is one of a few groups currently providing financing for aircraft transactions in India. Much of the capital is still provided by Indian banks, but he believes that international banks could do a lot to stimulate market growth there by offering more creative financing, including operating leases, which are still rare in India.

According to Wadhawan, Indian banking rules can still be somewhat restrictive in terms of putting deals for corporate aircraft together. As serious an issue are the import duties on foreign-built aircraft that were introduced in 2004 despite the fact that India doesn’t build any business aircraft.

Owners can be exempt from the import duty if their aircraft are used for charter. This fiscal status can carry separate tax burdens, but these too can be avoided if aircraft are leased through Irish lessors who can take advantage of a tax treaty between India and Ireland.

Wadhawan acknowledged that Indian bureaucracy can make the closure of deals a protracted process. He also cautioned on legal issues such as difficulties in enforcing personal guarantees. –C.A.