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Sunday, June 1, 2008

More Demand, More Scrutiny

International safety advocates are encouraged by news that the rotorcraft industry in India is undertaking independent, third-party safety audits of helicopter operators.

The news comes via the Rotary Wing Society of India in a message to leaders of the International Helicopter Safety Team. Indian industry has undertaken an effort that parallels that international group’s initiative, which aims to cut helicopter accident rates around the world 80 percent by 2016. India was the site of the first regional conference of that international team, which was held in June 2006 in New Delhi and was sponsored by The Rotary Wing Society.

"It doesn’t matter how good the audits are right now," said one leader of the international team. "It’s an important first step in the process of enhancing safety that the industry in India is taking."

Word of the audits comes as India’s aviation regulator, the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA), had said it would appoint independent parties to audit the activities of flight schools in the country. That followed findings that a flight school in Baramati was issuing falsified test results to pilot trainees.

The intention is for auditors to conduct six inspections a year. In addition to verifying flight schools’ compliance with aviation regulations, the auditors are charged with suggesting ways of improving the oversight and performance of those schools.

The rising demand for pilots in India has provoked a rapid increase in the number of flight schools there.

Some projections say India would need 300 more helicopter pilots a year through 2013. To help meet such demand, the government recently decided to permit 100 percent ownership of flight schools by foreign entities. (It also is allowing 100 percent foreign ownership of helicopter operators, which likely would further increase demand for pilots.) The government of France last month said it is working on setting up a flight academy in India in partnership with Eurocopter. Bell Helicopter also is among many others considering such a move.

The concern is that, in this high-demand, increasingly competitive setting, some flight schools are falsifying records to show that students have received more instruction in the air than they actually have flown and issuing them certificates on that basis. That would put pilots in the cockpit who have not meet regulatory standards for serving as pilot in command of an aircraft.

Signs of growth in the Indian market appear regularly.

The government now is considering selling small stakes in state-owned companies, reportedly including Pawan Hans Helicopters. This national helicopter company reports it has a fleet of 37 helicopters — 17 Eurocopter AS365Ns and nine AS365N3, three Bell 206L4s and four Bell 407s, two Russian-built Mi-172s.

The consulting firm Ernst & Young is projecting that India’s demand for private air services to grow 50 percent a year, driven by rising car ownership there and poor investment in road infrastructure.

Along those lines, India’s pioneer of low-cost air travel, Air Deccan, plans to start a helicopter shuttle service to Bangalore’s new Bengaluru International Airport, which was slated to open last month. The service’s fare, equivalent to $100 (€65), is intended to lure travelers who otherwise face a three-hr drive to the airport from most business parks in Bangalore, which is called India’s Silicon Valley.

JB Aviation is planning scheduled helicopter service in southern India. The company is awaiting DGCA approval to start service to Kodaikanal, about 55 nm (100 km) southeast of its headquarters city of Coimbatore in Tamil Nadu state, to Madurai, about 95 nm to the southeast, and Ooty about 25 nm to the northwest. It has acquired land in Ooty for a heliport and plans to lease helicopters from Pawan Hans for the service.

JB Aviation said it is marketing the services in part to meet demand from corporate customers, such as Nokia and Vodafone, seeking more efficient transportation options in the region.

Global Vectra Helicorp Ltd has opened a new maintenance hangar at Juhu Airport in north Mumbai. The offshore support operator has India’s largest fleet of Bell 412s and has introduced Eurocopter’s EC155B1 in offshore missions there.

The $2.75 million (€1.76) facility will "provide excellent support facilities for our growing helicopter fleet," said Global Vectra’s CEO, Allan Brown.

The company has approvals for overhauling 42-deg and 90-deg gearboxes and swashplate and tail-rotor assemblies for the 412. It also can perform 2,500-hr special inspections of the 412’s power train components, overhaul those components, and repair mechanical, electrical, avionics and structural items on that helicopter.

A second phase of construction will add a four-story office building to the facility.

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