The gloves are off for the French helicopter association UFH, which is launching a campaign at Paris against what it calls the French government's "damaging anti-helicopter regulation" that is driving many operators out of business.

"The operator community is desperate and they cannot be suppressed any longer," said Dominique Orbec, president of the UFH, which represents the country's operators, owners, suppliers and manufacturers, including Eurocopter - the world's largest helicopter producer.

"While all our authorities are visiting the air show, including President Nicolas Sarkozy, to praise the vitality and the performance of the French aerospace industry, it is a shame that the government is bent on bashing the helicopter in order to pander to the environmental lobby," Orbec added.

The French civilian helicopter fleet totals around 500 and the industry directly and indirectly employs about 10,000 people.

Late last year, the French government introduced an "anti-helicopter decree" which prohibits the operation of helicopters over built-up areas. "This regulation is designed to protect people from noise, but flies in the face of what a helicopter is designed to do and will put a stop to many types of operations - charter, aerial work etc. Even air ambulance providers are no longer permitted to land in town centres. So an injured patient has to be transferred by road to the nearest helicopter or landing site, which could prove fatal in some same cases," said Orbec.

He added that the Paris heliport in Issy-les-Moulineaux is also threatened with closure, "which will have negative impact" on many of the capital's operators.

"These laws are impractical, economically unrealistic and are hurting the helicopter operators' community. As a consequence, since the beginning of the year, several companies have disappeared, some are in bankruptcy and others have de-localised their activities under foreign registrations," said Orbec.

UFH is seeking to reverse this trend and is calling for immediate and open discussions with the government.

"If the situation does not improve we will consider strike action. Perhaps when all the civil helicopters are grounded then our law makers will appreciate how invaluable they are to the country," Orbec added.

Source: Flight Daily News