Pawan Hans, India's largest operator of civil helicopters, hopes around 2010 to begin fixed-wing charter operations with services to the country's outlying Andaman and Nicobar islands.
"We have been looking for amphibious aircraft and are in talks with several manufacturers and their representatives," says the state-owned company's chairman and managing director, R K Tyagi. "When this is completed, we can move into the fixed-wing market where there is growing demand for charter services."
India's burgeoning middle class and the government's plans to promote domestic tourism sites fit the company's plans, he adds. Bangladesh, Maldives and Sri Lanka have also approached Pawan Hans to provide air services to tourism and pilgrimage sites in those countries from India, and seaplanes could be used for these as well.
Helicopters remain the company's core business, with Pawan Hans operating 36 of the 197 helicopters in India. This included 17 Eurocopter SA365N Dauphins, nine Eurocopter AS365N3 Dauphins, three Bell 206s, one Robinson R44, two Mil Mi-172s and four Bell 407s.
The company is set to complete the purchase of another 20 helicopters in a few months, and these are likely to be a combination of Bell and Eurocopter models. It will deploy these in the growing heli-tourism, offshore oil and gas exploration, and medical evacuation sectors, says Tyagi.
"Previously, helicopters were not considered safe in India. However, many safety features have been incorporated and the infrastructure has been upgraded. People are getting used to them. Politicians, in particular, like them as they must cover a large amount of ground during elections. We believe that there will be enough demand for 500 helicopters in India over the next three years," says Tyagi.
He believes that there is great potential for growth in helicopter medical evacuation services in the coming years. Pawan Hans is the operator of India's only medevac helicopter, but it plans to add more of the type in the coming years.
"There are 700 medevac helicopters in the USA, and we have only one. This is important as we would be able to save so many lives, and we hope to increase this service," says Tyagi.
The government is also playing its part by relaxing the air traffic rules for helicopters, he adds. "They are talking about separate air corridors. These will be used exclusively by helicopters and will help in the free flow of air traffic," says Tyagi.
India's growing helicopter population has also led to a demand for dedicated heliports in the country, and Pawan Hans will begin operations at New Delhi's first one heliport before the 2010 Commonwealth Games. Tyagi says: "We plan to have heliports in all of India's major cities, building a helicopter network that links the country."
Source: Flight International