Heli Air Monaco, the scheduled helicopter airline operating between Nice and Monaco, has provisionally selected the six-seat Eurocopter EC130B4 to replace its Eurocopter Squirrel fleet.

The airline is also likely to benefit from changes to Monaco's customs status to finalise interline agreements with fixed-wing airlines.

The Monaco flag-carrier took delivery of a second single-engined B4 in June this year, as part of a three-aircraft deal that also included a six-seat AS355N Twin Squirrel. After evaluating both helicopters, the company is "more or less oriented towards the B4", says Robert Aracil, Heli Air's station manager at Nice airport.

"While certain conditions necessitate a twin-engined aircraft, regulations do not prohibit the use of single-engined helicopters on our core business," he adds. The company, which also operates two 10-seat AS365N3 Dauphin twins, operates charter and aerial work flights in addition to the scheduled airlink.

Heli Air is expected to place a further order for the new version of the single-engined Squirrel, but fleet renewal is "not an immediate priority," says Aracil. The carrier says it did not consider other manufacturers' types, as its relationship with Marseilles-based Eurocopter dates back to the company's foundation in 1977.

Heli Air is also set to implement full codeshares with a series of European carriers for onward travel from Nice, France. Henri Bayol, head of SACM, Monaco's civil aviation authority, says plans have been approved for the principality to become an associate member of the 15-country Schengen customs union.

St Tropez-based Héli Securité Helicopter Airline has been granted rights to operate on the Nice-Monaco route, following the suspension of services by HéliFrance in April. Heli Air says the route has a natural ceiling of around 130,000 passengers a year, which is too few to share between two carriers, according to the France-Monaco air services agreement.

"We view all new entrants into the market as real competition, but in 25 years we've seen four operators come and go," says Aracil.

Source: Flight International