CIVIL HELICOPTERS extend the reach and expand the capabilities of businesses, state governments and security agencies. The positive impact of civil helicopters for entities which can afford to acquire and operate them, remains compelling. However, purchases must also be weighed against the prevailing economic conditions. The latest survey and forecast of turbine-powered civil helicopter market by ‘Honeywell’ shows improved purchase plans for new helicopters in every region of the world.
Global five year demand is split almost 50-50 between the Americas and rest of the world involving an increase of almost 5,000-5,500 machines. Latin America and Asia will continue to have highest fleet replacement and expansion expectations and remain the world’s third largest regional market, following North America and Europe. Drivers for these expectations are aircraft age and condition, contractual requirements, expiring warranties and regulations requiring twin engines (off shore operations). This is further supported by the fact that the helicopter usage for corporate, oil and gas, utility and training is increasing manifold in these regions making the helicopter a value add in the current business environment.
HELICOPTER MARKET – INDIA
India’s civil aviation market is today among the fastest growing in the world, but helicopter use remains very limited. From the time the first civil helicopter was flown in India in November 1953 and up to 1986 the commercial use of helicopters in India was limited to small aviation companies involved in communication and crop spraying. The growth of civil helicopter fleet in the early years was very modest. 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. While the numbers had reached 293 in 2012, the same has seen a decline in the beginning of 2013 due to factors purely related to high cost of operations and regulatory bottlenecks, rather than the market prospects which continue to be positive. Today, there are approximately 266 civil registered helicopters in the country, with about 76 commercial operators. However, this number is woefully inadequate when compared with the world population of civil helicopters. As per the available data, out of a total world civil helicopter population of 34,000 plus, India accounts for less than one per cent. Infact, India currently has fewer civil helicopters than Switzerland. In Brazil – a developing country like ours – the city of Sao Paulo (similar to Bombay and Delhi) itself 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.
As per world statistics, 40 per cent of all civil helicopters are being used for corporate business, 29 per cent for emergency medical services and law enforcement, 16 per cent for offshore operations and the balance for other operations like heli-tourism, adventure sports, aerial surveys, etc. This indicates that almost one-third of helicopters worldwide are being used for law enforcement and emergency medical services which is almost non-existent in India. Presently, majority of the commercial helicopters available are being used in the energy sector – both onshore and offshore. The balance helicopters are employed in communications, corporate use, medical evacuation (air taxi/ambulance), heli-tourism/pilgrimage, elections and other services like survey and pipe line monitoring. Stakeholders are today prepared to commit large investments in offshore exploration and production particularly in deep sea areas so far left untouched. Helicopters form an important and integral part of such operations. In India presently there are 50 plus helicopters employed in the offshore sector on the western and eastern coasts. These helicopters account for over 75 per cent of the total civil helicopter flying hours logged in the country As the exploration moves further offshore, the requirement is for modern helicopters with better range and advanced safety features. Much of the above expected growth will therefore be driven by the burgeoning offshore oil and gas industry, as major obstacles remain in the business aviation growth.
TYPES OF HELICOPTERS
The type of helicopters used in the civil market is strongly influenced by the performance criteria of the helicopter in terms of speed, range, safety and reliability, hot/high capability, cabin size and brand experience. Light single engine helicopters continue to be the most popular product class with Eurocopter’s EC 130/AS 350, Bell 407, Robinson R-66 and AgustaWestland’s AW 109 the most sought after models. These models are also flying in India. The next in line are the Intermediate/Medium Twin-Engine helicopters. The models most commonly seen in this segment are the AW139, AW169, Bell 412, EC 145 and Sikorsky S-76. These types of helicopters are more in demand in the oil and gas arena and are certainly more expensive to operate. The heavy twin/multi-engine class of helicopters have a very small share in civil market and are found mostly in the military domain due to their specialised nature and heavy operational costs – typical models are Eurocopter’s EC 225, Russian MI 171 and Sikorsky’s S-92 (joint venture with Tata’s set up in Hyderabad). In fact the MI 171 owned by Pawan Hans Limited was involved in a fatal crash in Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh killing the chief minister along with 18 others.
BOTTLENECKS TO GROWTH
With the world market surveys showing a positive growth in India in the coming five years and tremendous commercial prospects existing as seen above, why are the numbers dwindling? The main hurdle is the surfeit of fiscal and regulatory bottlenecks thrust on the operators by the bureaucracy. These are enumerated below.
High Cost of Operations: Turbine fuel, customs duty for import of helicopters/spares and application of fixed wing air traffic rules to helicopters have stymied the growth of civil helicopter industry to a large extent. Another major problem is lack of infrastructure. While the scope of operations and utilisation for commercial helicopters is vast, the requisite infrastructure is almost non-existent both in the metros and remote areas.
Availability of Pilots and Training Facilities: With the expanding civil helicopter industry the demand for pilots is ever increasing. Presently 80 per cent of pilots are being provided through the armed forces (Retirees/Premature Retirees). There is a need to boost up the training facilities to get pilots from the civil street.
Regulatory Bottlenecks: The biggest bottleneck is the applicability of fixed wing operation regulations to helicopter operations. Fortunately, based on the recommendations of the Parliamentary Committee on Aviation the requirement for looking into helicopter operations in a more holistic manner is being pursued but the progress is lethargic to say the least. There is a need for clearing regulatory bottlenecks faced by the industry on a fast track to enhance growth and smooth operations. While some action for having separate corridors for operation of helicopters in Delhi and Mumbai airspace is in progress the pace is again very slow. This is a major step that will help in increasing safety as well as efficiency and capacity for helicopter operations.
Despite these bottlenecks, India due to its terrain and vastness is a helicopter country and offers phenomenal potential for usage of civil helicopters for public good. However, for this industry to grow and become viable there is a need to address these issues on priority by the main stake holders, like the Ministry of Civil Aviation(MOCA), the Director General Civil Aviation (DGCA) and the Airports Authority of India (AAI), failing which the prospects will remain gloomy, proving all world market surveys wrong. The MOCA strategy for the civil aviation sector in the next five years includes providing impetus for growth of helicopter industry and this must be implemented seriously.
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