Vertical Lift

Helicopters will be free to fly from point to point without prior air traffic control clearance in airspace below 5,000 feet and areas other than prohibited and restricted ones

Issue: 2 / 2016By R. ChandrakanthPhoto(s): By Airbus Helicopters, Bell Helicopter
(Top) Airbus Helicopters H135; Pawan Hans AS365 N3+ from Airbus Helicopter; (Above) Bell 206; Bell 429

The Indian helicopter market has something to cheer about as the present government is proactive and is considering several key elements, in consultation with the industry, to prop the segment. In the draft National Civil Aviation Policy which is expected to be finalised by the Cabinet soon, helicopters take an important place. The draft paper states that helicopters play a key role in remote area connectivity, intra-city movement, tourism, law enforcement, disaster relief, search and rescue, emergency medical evacuation, etc. India currently has less than 300 civilian helicopters, as compared to Brazil, for example, that has over 1,300.

The policy will promote helicopter usage in the following manner:

  • Separate regulations for helicopters will be notified by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) by April 1, 2016, after due stakeholder consultation.
  • The government will facilitate the development of four heli-hubs initially, across the country to promote regional connectivity.
  • Scheduled helicopter operators will be allowed to trade their domestic flying credits (DFC).
  • The Ministry of Civil Aviation will coordinate with the Ministry of Finance, Ministry of Home Affairs, the National Highways Authority of India, Indian Railways, insurance companies, hospitals, Pawan Hans and helicopter operators to facilitate rapid medical evacuation.
  • Helicopters will be free to fly from point to point without prior ATC (air traffic control) clearance in airspace below 5,000 feet and areas other than prohibited and restricted ones, after filing the flight plan with the nearest ATC office.

Adds to economic development

It is hoped that besides announcing the policy, the government would do well if it gets the bureaucracy to implement the policy in keeping with industry sentiments. The contribution of the rotary segment in economic development is tangible and the potential for it to grow is huge. One such field is the HEMS (helicopter emergency medical service) which is fairly nascent in India. Though the Asia-Pacific region is witnessing an increasing use of light helicopters in the ambulance services segment, India is still a laggard.

OEMs gung-ho about market

Major original equipment manufacturers such as Bell, Airbus Helicopters, MD Helicopters, Sikorsky (now acquired by Lockheed Martin), AgustaWestland and others are competing for a greater market share in HEMS segment in the APAC region. Some of the governments in the region are planning to waive off taxes on jet fuel, landing charges, etc, to make HEMS affordable. Though the draft policy does not mention any tax incentive, it is making regulatory processes a little easier. We see some movement already in this direction as Turbomeca in association with Airbus Helicopters and with Indian operators Aviators Air Rescue and Air Medical Group is developing ambulance service in India. Three H135 ( formerly known as EC135 T3) selected by Aviators Air Rescue Private Limited are operational covering the southern states of Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh. The company plans more H135 during 2016 for expanded nationwide coverage.

H135 versatile chopper from Airbus Helicopters

The H135 is a member of Airbus Helicopters’ lightmedium EC135 family of helicopters. Today around 1,100 twinengine EC135s have been delivered and are in service in nearly 60 countries. With nearly 300 operators, these versatile helicopters have together flown more than 3.25 million hours. The H135 remains a reference in emergency medical services, available in a wide range of dedicated EMS interiors that maximise operators’ choice in configurations, providing ample room for single-patient or dual-patient transport. The helicopter’s anti-resonance isolation system ensures each ride is a smooth one.

There are currently around 270 civil helicopters operational in India, and Airbus Helicopters’ Indian subsidiary holds one-third of the market share. Airbus has a partnership with the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).

Offshore is big market

In the region, there are about 750 civil helicopters operating in South East Asia itself, where Malaysia has the strongest offshore operational base. Increased offshore oil and gas exploration and production activities in the APAC region is slowly stimulating the market demand for helicopters. The rotary-wing is the workhorse for the offshore oil and gas exploration and production industry. Helicopters form an essential and critical part of offshore oil development on a routine basis, moving men and equipment from land to the offshore site and vice versa. And they are ever ready to deal with casualty evacuation in case of an accident at the facility.

ONGC big stake in Pawan Hans

The Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC), a public sector undertaking, has 49 per cent stake in Pawan Hans Limited, a government-owned company with 46 helicopters in its fleet. It primarily provides helicopters services to the oil sector for its offshore exploration operations and services in remote and hilly areas and charter services to promote tourism. The formation of the Helicopter Corporation of India in 1986 (later Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd), provided the first boost to the civil helicopter industry in India, which now holds and operates the largest fleet in the country.

Dauphin, the workhorse

Pawan Hans has got 35 Dauphin helicopters from Airbus Helicopters. The AS365 N3+ is a member of the highly-capable Dauphin family, which has established its reputation as a fast and powerful helicopter offering operators an outstanding useful load, excellent performance and long range. The latest AS365 N3+ version features more powerful turboshaft engines and an increased gross weight, further enhancing the type’s versatility.

Bell at a steady pace

The other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) too are doing fairly well in the Indian market though the challenges are many. Bell Helicopter started its operations in India in 1995 with a liaison office in New Delhi. Today, Bell Helicopter has grown to more than 100 employees and has offices in New Delhi, Bengaluru and Mumbai. At the Textron India Technology Centre in Bengaluru, Bell Helicopter is continuing to build a cross functional team of engineers to support global operations with a variety of expertise including design, research, simulation and modelling, systems engineering, analysis and manufacturing engineering for both new product development and current production models.

After bringing the first helicopter to India back in 1956, the Bell Helicopter fleet in India has grown from only two helicopters in 1994 to more than 100 helicopters today, making Bell Helicopter one of the market leaders here. Bell Helicopter has two customer support facilities (Airworks in Mumbai and Deccan Aviation in Bengaluru), one independent sales representative (Jubilant Enpro) and a customer support engineer solely dedicated to support Indian customers.

Bell Helicopter states that nearly 60 per cent of all helicopters produced globally are Bell Helicopters and 98 per cent of all new helicopter missions were pioneered in a Bell product. Bell helicopter currently produces a wide variety of transport and executive aircraft including the 429, 412, 407 and 206 L-4. That clearly shows how important the Indian helicopter market is for the OEMs and with government reforms there should be encouraging vertical lift.

India lagging behind in helicopter count

Out of the total number of civil helicopters of 34,000 plus India accounts for less than one per cent which is pathetic. In fact, India currently has fewer civil helicopters than Switzerland. In Brazil – a developing country like ours – the city of São Paulo (similar to Mumbai) has about 750 helicopters. However, despite the above statistics, the market and industry remains optimistic on the India helicopter story. This is clearly demonstrated by the establishing of joint ventures in India by helicopter majors like AgustaWestland, Sikorsky and Eurocopter, hoping that local production will give them an edge as they compete to win orders.

HEMS, law enforcement, VIP movement, film shootings and offshore transport operations are important prospects for OEMs in India. The civil market has expanded in the past five years, although actual numbers of civil helicopters in service are still relatively small for a country like India. The potential for growth is thus very significant.