India’s small-but-strategic South Asian neighbors, including Bangladesh, Bhutan and Sri Lanka, will procure around 30 helicopters in different categories in the next five years, according to an internal study conducted by Sikorsky.
While Indian military helicopter procurement plans are for more than 1,000 helicopters by 2020, including light utility, attack, Mi-17 medium transport, heavy-lift and multi-role platforms, even as its GDP grew by over 6 percent last year, Bangladesh has the largest budget for procurement in the Indian periphery.
With no helicopters of its own, the disaster management and relief ministry (which handles floods, cyclones and fires) is considering the purchase of four medium-size utility helicopters of the Mi-17 and Eurocopter AS332 type. The Bangladesh Air Force (BAF) has a VVIP fleet of two Mi-8 and two Bell 212 helicopters and 17 Mi-17s, some of which need to be replaced.
Eurocopter delivered the first of two 130 B4 civil helicopters in March to private company R&R Aviation for emergency medical services and humanitarian support. The EC130 B4 can be configured for air charters, sightseeing tours and aerial observation.
The potential for light helicopters led Eurocopter to do a flight demonstration of the single-engine AS350 B3e on its way to Kathmandu, Nepal, for delivery to Shree Airlines, a large helicopter operator in Nepal. “We see a promising future for the demand of helicopters in both the civil and government markets in Bangladesh…The AS350 B3e is able to [meet requirements]…including passenger transport, EMS, aerial work, law enforcement and disaster management, ” said Eurocopter South-East Asia president Eric Toussaint.
The Bangladesh-U.S. Partnership Dialogue held in Dhaka last month had Bell and Sikorsky joining discussions on prospects of U.S. investment in Bangladesh.
With the 22-year civil war in the northeast of Sri Lanka over, tourism to the region is opening up. However, with the road infrastructure in shambles, more helicopter companies have shown interest. Colombo-based Lakwin Aviation has applied for certification, while the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) is considering procurement for Helitours, its commercial domestic service arm, which offers sightseeing tours, aerial newsgathering and photography, as well as surveillance and advertising.
The SLAF, meanwhile, has ordered around 14 Mi-17s and two Bell 206 helicopters for transport.
Bhutan-based Dharma Adventures, having recently applied for an air operator’s certificate, will set up helicopter services in the country and also fly in neighboring Nepal, said owner Kinley Tshering recently. Plans include cargo flights to lift equipment for hydro projects in remote areas, tourism and airlifts for emergencies–currently operated by the Indian army.