Monday, December 1, 2008


Helicopters are in big demand these days thanks to the elections in some states. The most popular choice of wings is the Bell 407 which makes up the bulk of the 40 orders for which import permission has been given. While most companies have gone in for one import permission, companies like A K Aviation in Mumbai, Skymaster Aviation and K R Chawla Pvt Ltd in Delhi have placed multiple import orders.

While the names of charter companies may seem obscure, most of these are the aviation arms of corporates. For instance, Ryan Air Services which got permission to import one Bell 430 in September is promoted by Ranbaxy. Similarly, Jupiter Aviation of Bangalore is promoted by former BPL chief Rajeev Chandrashekar it plans to import one Eurocopter AS 365 N3.

The demand has certainly been high this time around. “Today if you want to book a helicopter, you won’t get one,’’ says Capt Uday Gelli, president, western region, Rotary Wing Society of India. Political parties block the choppers the day the nominations are announced. “As six states are going to the polls, the demand is extremely high this time around,’’ he adds.

“The cost of chartering a helicopter varies from Rs 70,000 to Rs 1 lakh for an hour, depending on the aircraft type. Different companies have different permutations for working out the cost, but the current norm in the industry is that if a chopper is hired for a month, one has to pay for at least 90 hours (three hours a day), whatever the usage may be,’’ says Capt Gelli.

The current lot of 40 import permissions will make a difference only in the parliamentary elections slated to be held next year. While the trend in this country is to buy helicopters prior to every parliamentary election, the current rise in supply is unprecedented. Hence a word of caution from the industry.

It remains to be seen how many of these import permissions will actually translate into purchases,’’ says Capt Gelli. “Some people have postponed their plans due to the economic slowdown others have applied for more import permissions than they need to save on time and effort.

But helicopter manufacturers are optimistic. “India has the fastest growing market,’’ Greg Hubbard, Bell’s director of communications, said during an aviation show held last month in Hyderabad. Bell, which claims to have a 52% market share in the country’s chopper industry, has forecast a 16-17% growth rate in India. This is high, considering that the growth rate has dropped to less than 5% in the developed economies of the US and Europe.

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