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Demand For Choppers Soar As Elections Near

By Shine Jacob
October 30, 2023 15:25 IST
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In the months to come, the skies above promise to be a captivating theatre of action, where helicopters play starring roles, ferrying leaders, and echoing the pulse of democracy.

IMAGE: Kindly note the image of Bharatiya Janata Party supporters waving as a helicopter carrying BJP leader Narendra D Modi approaches to land, during a public meeting for assembly elections has been published only for representational purposes. Photograph: ANI Photo

As India gears up for polls in five states and the Lok Sabha elections next year, a distinct and electrifying symphony will soon echo through the skies -- the unmistakable thwip-thwip of helicopter rotors.

Demand for charter helicopters for election rallies has taken off, reaching unprecedented heights in recent weeks.

Helicopter rental rates, too, have skyrocketed, with industry insiders reporting an increase of 25 to 50 per cent.

The surge is also attributed to their limited availability within the country.

Over the next six to eight months, the demand is expected to intensify further as the colossal Lok Sabha elections draw near.

According to data shared by the Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI), a not-for-profit working for the helicopter industry, India currently has about 254 charter helicopters.

However, a staggering 190 of them are committed to public sector endeavours, defence operations, corporate ventures, and offshore missions, leaving just 60 to 70 helicopters available to cater to the high-stakes election market.

In the political arena, a fierce competition plays out as the two major national parties, the Bharatiya Janata Party and the Congress, vie for the lion's share of helicopters to power their election campaigns.

The demand is higher from the BJP, given its ambitious campaign strategy, says Jees George, director, Golden Eagle Aviation, a Bengaluru-based private aviation firm.

"Regional parties, in contrast, typically secure one or two helicopters for their top leadership," he adds.

The cast of key players in India's helicopter industry includes heavyweights such as Pawan Hans, Global Vectra, Heligo Charters, Heritage Aviation and Himalayan Heli Services.

The demand has surged across poll-bound states like Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Telangana.

However, the story in Mizoram, which will vote on November 7, remains one of few bookings and minimal excitement, industry insiders say.

Bineesh Paul, mission controller of India at Chennai-based Charter Flights Aviation, reveals the behind-the-scenes picture.

"Enquiries have surged by over 50 per cent for us, with a significant chunk -- 17-19 per cent -- translating into bookings," he says.

"As the demand continues to rise and advanced bookings accumulate, the natural consequence is higher prices."

For instance, the hourly charges for an aircraft stationed in Chennai may hover around Rs 4.5 lakh, but when we have to ferry it from Hyderabad, the bill could leap to between Rs 6 lakh and Rs 6.75 lakh, he explains.

RWSI President A S Butola attributes India's helicopter scarcity to regulatory complexities and infrastructural bottlenecks.

Word from the ground is that every last of the helicopters is booked, a scenario anticipated to persist for the next six to eight months, he says.

To put things in perspective, the United States has some 10,000 charter helicopters. Even cities like Sao Paulo in Brazil outnumber India in helicopter count.

Butola underscores the need for uniform regulations for both airline operators and helicopters, noting that India's helicopter count peaked at 294, dwindled to 239, and has only recently inched up to 254.

Charter Flights Aviation offers a glimpse into the price dynamics of the helicopter market.

Prices commence at $18 per minute for single-engine helicopters and jump to $35 per minute for their twin-engine counterparts.

Meanwhile, charter flights such as jets start at $17 per minute.

"Twin engines have higher demand during election season, according to circulars from the Directorate General of Civil Aviation," George says.

"With some helicopters on Chardham duty, the availability is even less."

In the months to come, the skies above promise to be a captivating theatre of action, where helicopters play starring roles, ferrying leaders, and echoing the pulse of democracy.

Aerial frenzy
  • Rentals for single-engine charter helicopters: Start at $18 per minute
  • For twin-engine helicopters: Start at $35 per minute
  • For charter flights such as jets: Start at $17 per minute

Feature Presentation: Aslam Hunani/

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Shine Jacob
Source: source