Operators flying some 300 helicopters in India say regulatory issues are stifling an industry that has enormous potential for expansion. Suffocating restrictions, say operators, hound them at every step, starting with brutal import taxes.
India’s rules require separate certification for every model type, so the lack of commonality and a mix of fleet types creates additional obstacles. For example, “Maintenance providers are not permitted to own a pool of inventory of spares, which could bring in efficiencies,” according to Sanjeev Choudhary, senior v-p of sales and business development at Indocopters, a Eurocopter commercial partner and authorized maintenance and sales center. He added, “It is a nightmare to do checks and get an engine overhauled as customs duties for spares are so high. Often spares take a month to get. Fortunately, Eurocopter has a spares depot in Hong Kong,” said CEO Mike Meyer.
While the recent national budget provided some relief by way of reduced customs duty for spares, these concessions are “too little,” Karan Singh, managing director of the Business Aircraft Operators’ Association (BAOA) of India, told AIN. “It will not lead to any boom. We need a reduction on import duties for the industry to grow faster.”
Opportunities for helicopter business are quickly moving beyond the demand for vertical point-to-point lift during elections, and the emergency medical services (EMS) sector stands to gain the most if India changes its insurance rules, which currently do not allow coverage of EMS operations.
According to some estimates, existing and planned construction projects suggest India could need 150 heavy-lift helicopters. In the high mountainous border areas where roads are being built, twin-engine heavy-lift helicopters could move heavy equipment. “There is also an imminent need for heavy-lift helicopters for hydroelectric power plants being built in the mountains, which now depend on mule force,” said Meyer. “Pylons and their foundations could be erected in a week instead of months if helicopters were used.” However, he added that construction companies remain apprehensive about the gray areas of regulatory issues governing such operations.
Operators say a level playing field has yet to materialize, with government agencies continuing to favor government-owned Pawan Hans Helicopters when they need helicopters.
There is some hope that the Ministry of Home Affairs will soon release a request for proposal for leasing police helicopters, a process in which, for the first time, private companies will be permitted to participate.