Seychelles billionaire is first member of super yacht club
by Crystal Chan, The New Paper|28 October 2008

Other tycoons collect luxurious cars. Seychelles billionaire Chinnakannan Sivasankaran prefers planes.

To date, he has spent more than US$80 million ($120m) to buy three private jets - a Boeing Business Jet and two Embraer Legacy 600s.

The Boeing is actually a 737 airliner retrofitted for private use while the Embraer Legacy 600 is a business jet that carries up to 16 passengers.

So it is not surprising that the businessman, who made his fortune in making cheap personal computers, has become the first member of Dragon Blaze, a luxury lifestyle company based in Labuan, Malaysia.

For a US$1 million annual membership fee, the 52-year-old chairman of the Sterling Group, a US$2b conglomerate based in Chennai, India, gets access to Dragon Blaze's fleet of four private jets and two luxury yachts.

Dragon Blaze, which launched its business last month, hosted 10 Singapore millionaires to a viewing party on its 150ft-long superyacht Moecca during last month's Singapore Grand Prix.

The New Paper on Sunday had featured the party on 28 Sep, but the millionaires had declined to be interviewed.

So far, Mr Sivasankaran is the only member of Dragon Blaze, which restricts membership to 50 persons worldwide.

The company said it will acquire more jets and yachts if membership grows.

Mr Sivasankaran admitted that he signed up for the prestigious service as a 'back-up plan'.

This way, he can still fly private if his jets are being used by his family or cannot be flown for other reasons.

In an interview with The New Paper on Sunday, Mr Sivasankaran, said: 'Time is money. The future of business depends on how much you get from spending your time.

"You may think that a private jet is a luxury, but it's a business tool for me."
Seychelles billionaire Mr Sivasankaran

'You may think that a private jet is a luxury, but it's a business tool for me.

'Every week, I have at least three flights to catch.'

He added that his departure times are unpredictable and can change at short notice.

He said: 'Where I go depends on my business and personal requirements.'

He regularly visits Singapore, Hong Kong, Dubai, London, Paris, Zurich and various cities in the US and Canada.

Mr Sivasankaran, who is also the Seychelles' Ambassador-at-Large, said: 'Commercial airlines have route restrictions. A flight from Seychelles to Macau would take almost two days because of the transits.

'But a private jet needs only 10 hours to fly the same route. I can shower, eat and sleep comfortably for eight hours. So I'll be ready to work once I touch down.'

A spokesman for the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore said flight plans from Singapore can be approved within an hour.

And that probably explains why Mr Sivasankaran likes to fly here. 'Singapore is very efficient,' he said.

He also flies SIA

For a trip to Singapore earlier this month, he used a Gulfstream V jet from Dragon Blaze, as his family was using his Boeing.

His two other aircraft were not suitable as they fly shorter distances.

Dragon Blaze absorbs the costs of transferring the planes from its base in Kota Kinabalu to the departure point, which alone can cost more than US$100,000.

A friend of Mr Sivasankaran, Mr Logan Ravishankar, CEO of aircraft charter company MyJet Asia, said: 'Siva is a smart man and he would have done his sums before signing up.

'Such pre-paid packages are common in Europe, but these aren't popular in Asia. Asians still prefer to pay for something only when they use it and that's a philosophy that I adopt for my business here too.'

While Mr Sivasankaran says he also flies first class on SIA's A380 occasionally, he still prefers to go private.

He said: 'A first-class flight is still public transport.

"If I invite someone to my jet, I'm sure he or she will cancel all appointments to meet me."

'There's also the fancy factor. If I invite someone to my jet, I'm sure he or she will cancel all appointments to meet me.'

Mr Sivasankaran, however, is not about to get a pilot's licence.

He said: 'I'm a connoisseur of talent and I hire the best in each category. Some celebrities pilot their own jets, but I wouldn't take a risk with someone who flies for a hobby.'

Yachts, private island and other entitlements of membership

When Mr Chinnakannan Sivasankaran is in Singapore, he uses the presidential suite at the Ritz-Carlton Millenia hotel.

He has rented it for a whole year.

With his Dragon Blaze membership, he gets a 50 per cent discount on such suites in hotels in Asia. He is also entitled to:

  • Access to four long-range private jets - a Gulfstream IV, a Gulfstream V, a Bombardier Global Express and a Dassault Falcon 900B. The Bombardier Global Express is a long-haul high-speed jet that has a market price of US$45m, while the Dassault Falcon 900B is an improved version of the Falcon 900 that is used in the air forces of Australia and Japan.
  • Use of the Moecca, a 150-ft long superyacht.
  • Use of the Raja Laut, a 100-ft long classic yacht.
  • Access to a private island and a safari park in Kenya.

This article was first published in The New Paper on Oct 28, 2008.

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