Even though the two state-owned airlines, Indian Airlines and Air India, have announced a merger, the country is on its way to once again have two scheduled airlines controlled by the government.
Pawan Hans, the country's largest helicopter operator, fully owned by the government, has just obtained a no-objection certificate from the civil aviation ministry for operating as a scheduled airline.
A scheduled airline can fix the time-table for its services and advertise to attract passengers, while non-scheduled carriers operate chartered flights and cannot advertise.
Pawan Hans can now apply for a licence from the Directorate General Civil Aviation to join the swelling ranks of passenger carriers such as Jet Airways and Air India, though it only plans to operate small aircraft to far-flung areas that are not well connected to the rest of the country.
"We have plans of acquiring small Donear aircraft which will help in our operations in the north-eastern areas. We are also looking at sea planes for operating in areas such as Andaman and Nicobar, Lakshwadeep and Goa. Initially, these planes would be leased," said a source from Pawan Hans. The company already has major helicopter operations in these areas.
Speaking to reporters a few days ago, Civil Aviation Minister Praful Patel had said the ministry was looking at helicopter operations particularly sea planes, since that was an untapped side of the aviation sector.
Pawan Hans currently carries men and material for the Punjab government and PSUs. Pawan Hans was formed in 1985 with the objective of providing helicopter services to the petroleum sector, linking inaccessible areas of the country and operating charters for the tourism sector.
Aviation analysts feel Pawan Hans as a scheduled carrier could complement the other two carriers well. "The domestic and international operations are now handled by Indian and Air India. What a new operator could do is to start air taxi operations in remote areas with smaller aircraft with around twenty seats," said aviation analyst Kapil Kaul of the Center for Asia Pacific Aviation (CAPA).
Pawan Hans helicopters are used by Oil and Natural Gas Corporation at Bombay High. Other PSUs such as GAIL use the helicopters for pipeline surveillance. The company provides services such as VIP charter operations, transportation of casualties during rescue operations and inter-island transportation in areas such as Andaman and Nicobar and Lakshwadeep.
The company currently has a fleet of around 40 helicopters including the Bell 206L4, Bell 407, Dauphin SA 365N, Dauphin AS 365N3 and Mi-172.