IF MINISTER of State for Environment and Forests Jairam Ramesh has his way, private helicopter operators might soon need to find something else to do. An affidavit from the minister’s office filed in the Bombay High Court said they didn’t support the setting up of private helipads in Mumbai. This came after a petition was filed in court by Mumbai-based Awaaz Foundation, saying the new helipads planned for Maharashtra would considerably add to the city’s noise pollution.
But after Awaaz, the most noise being made is by industry stakeholders who stand to lose jobs if the helipads don’t come up. Vishnu Rawal, a helicopter pilot with some 23,000 flying hours to his credit, argues that a helicopter produces 90 decibels of noise, whereas humans can tolerate up to 94. Trains, he says, are far noisier. He has a firm backer in K Sridharan, president of the Rotary Wing Society of India, a non-profit organisation dedicated to the promotion of the civil helicopter industry. “With the current generation of choppers, it is not difficult to incorporate international noise reduction norms,” he says.
But now, with Ramesh insisting that all heliports and chopper services should be government-owned and run, and used for only medical emergencies and strategic purposes, the Rs 1,000-crore chartered helicopter sector’s ambitious growth plans have, for the moment at least, taken a sharp nosedive.
According to the Rotary Wing Society of India, there are 260 civil-registered helicopters in India. Of these, 175 are used commercially, while the rest are owned or operated by state governments or private companies. Many of these helicopters are sophisticated models with moderate noise levels
JK Poovaiah, chief executive of Deccan Charters Ltd — one of the largest chartered helicopter operators in the country — and Sandeep Saraf, president of the Indian Aircraft Association of Non-scheduled Aircraft, consider it a retrograde step. They point to China’s 2,000 helicopters and Rio de Janeiro’s 500. New Zealand with a population of just 4.25 million has 500 helicopters — about one chopper for every 8,500 people, compared with India’s one for every 4.5 million citizens. The US leads the pack with nearly 13,000 helicopters and the UK comes second with 1,100.