A working group will be formed by early January to look into the travails of India's helicopter industry, Jayant Sinha, state minister for civil aviation confirmed at the second annual Aero Expo held in Delhi on November 2. Languishing in India for sheer lack of awareness and political will, helicopter services were set to get a boost in the new civil aviation policy announced last year. But the major proposals, including one on helicopters being free to fly below 5,000 feet without prior ATC clearance, has not been implemented, as an air defense clearance has yet to be resolved.
“It is not difficult to come out with a policy, it is the enactment that is more tedious,” said RK Bali, managing director of the Business Aviation Operators Association (BAOA), while expressing optimism the policy would be implemented soon. Secretary of Civil Aviation R.N Choubey said that helicopter taxi services should be encouraged from Delhi, but that is not possible until the Delhi International Airport resolves issues such as parking and slots.
Helicopter emergency medical services (HEMS) have significant potential in India’s geographical expanse, particularly in hilly and remote areas. Satpal Maharaj, tourism minister for the northern state of Uttarakhand, said helicopters have a “huge scope for enforcing law and order, rendering air ambulance services, tackling forest fires and connecting religious and tourist destinations located in rough terrain of hilly areas.”
However, India's Regional Connectivity Scheme (RCS) that has permitted helicopter operators to bid for hilly "priority" areas, mandates twin-engine models. “There is a big business case for flying single-engine helicopters at a much lower cost without compromising safety,” Airbus Helicopters India president Xavier Hay told AIN.
“There are restrictions of height in mountainous terrain where twin-engine helicopters cannot operate. The plan is skewed. If charter operators can carry tourist traffic to mountainous areas [usings singles], why are they not allowed under the RCS?” queried BAOA president Rohit Kapur. Of the approximately 300 helicopters in India, more than 65 percent are single-engine, with the majority of the remainder used for offshore operations.
What is required, Bali said, is a change in mindset to realize that single-engine machines are safe. To accomplish that, “We are in the process of gathering statistics on single-engine helicopters, which even EASA allows for night operations, to present to the regulator.”
Hay said rooftop helipads are an urgent requirement, primarily for HEMS and air taxis, given the congestion in metro airports. In Bangalore, for instance, only one rooftop helipad on the ITC Sheraton hotel has been cleared, said Hay. “Time is money,” he added. Airbus said it is willing to help in mapping routes for helipad operations.