Sahara India Airlines has embarked on an $82 million expansion of its fleet, moving the airline into regional turboprop and helicopter operations.

The carrier will initiate the programme by acquiring two more leased Boeing 737-400s, plus up to five 50-seat turboprops.

The first of the new 737-400s is expected to join the fleet at the end of September, and the first turboprop by the end of 1997.

Since 1996, Sahara has been seeking Government approval to acquire up to five Aero International (Regional) ATR 42-500s. Sahara is believed to have a commitment for at least three ATRs, although officially has still to finalise its selection of aircraft type.

Part of the turboprop deal, expected to cost $65 million, will be funded by a consortium of foreign banks, while Sahara is providing $14 million. The turboprops will be used to feed its hubs in Calcutta, Delhi and Mumbai.

In early July, Sahara launched its helicopter division, which will operate a hub and spoke network for the tourist market and be based at Mumbai's Juhu heliport. The division is expected by October to have a fleet of six helicopters, which will be a mix of Eurocopter types, including four AS355 Ecureuils and three AS365 Dauphins. A business jet may also be acquired.

Source: Flight International