On the corner of a runway on Begumpet Airport, dwarfed by the massive passenger aircraft, were three helicopters on display — OSS Air, Eurocopter EC135 and Eurocopter AS 350 BE. The sheer visual contrast and disparity makes us wonder, is there a market for private helicopters?
“The market is very young”, says Rishi Malhotra, general manager (India) of Bell Helicopter, a world leader in the segment. “There has been a lot of growth in India, especially among business houses and the corporate sector. People are starting to realise the advantages that come with buying a chopper,” he said.
Bell aims at an annual growth of 15 to 20 per cent in the Indian market. A heliport in the Rohini area of Delhi, the first of its kind in India, is a sign of times to come.
“Unlike private jets, you don’t need a runway to take off and land. Even a school playground is enough. It is ideal for businessmen who don’t want to waste time tackling the land route and related delays. A helicopter can go just about anywhere,” says Bala Murali Done, an engineer with Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, a PSU that manufactures civilian and military helicopters.
The fuel economy in a chopper is also far lesser than a private jet. “A jet uses turbo fan engine which consumes a lot of fuel, while a helicopter has an engine which uses rotor. This relatively uses lesser amount of fuel,” pointed out Murali.
On an average, a helicopter can travel up to 250 nautical miles (NM) for a duration of up to two hours, and it typically costs anywhere between Rs4 crore and Rs200 crore depending on the model and customisation.
To buy or charter
Though there is a consensus that operating choppers are affordable compared to jets, the lot is divided on whether chartering or owning a helicopter is a better option.
“When somebody buys one, they also have to maintain it — which can be quite a challenge. Chartering is easier and affordable,” says Gautham CB, marketing manager of Deccan Charters Limited.
Hari Praveen, sales manager at Eurocopter, said, “If you travel more than 15 hours a month, it is economical to own a helicopter. But if you use it for anything lesser, it’s best to charter a flight,” he said.
“Buying a helicopter is easy, maintaining it is difficult. You need to have enough knowledge and expertise as well. Chartering a flight is literally just making a call,” said a senior manager at Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited, India’s premier helicopter service provider. He predicts the rotatory wing segment to grow by about 50 per cent in the next five years.
Privately owned helicopters in India: 36
Non-scheduled (NOSC) operators: 188
Number of private helicopters in USA: 10,826
Eurocopters in India: 80 (7 variants)
Cost: $2 million to€$20 million per unit
Bell Helicopter Textron INC - Hall A- Stall 26
Deccan Charters Limited - Hall A- Stall 38
Hindustan Aeronautics Limited - Hall A- Stall 25
Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited - Hall B- Stall 14-15 and 22-23