Pawan Hans may enter commercial airline business

The New Delhi based firm, however, is yet to decide on the business model and the timeline for the proposed venture, the official said.

Mumbai: State-run helicopter operator Pawan Hans is planning to enter the commercial airline business offering regional connectivity and has already received a go-ahead from its board, a top official has said.

The New Delhi based firm, however, is yet to decide on the business model and the timeline for the proposed venture, the official said.

The country's largest helicopter company, which slipped into the red in the 2012 fiscal, has managed to turnaround with a Rs 7-8 crore net profit (unaudited) in the past fiscal on account of higher efficiencies and cost-cutting.

"Pawan Hans has a mandate from its board as well as the government to go for fixed wing aircraft operations. That is a very challenging opportunity for us," Pawan Hans Chairman Anil Srivastava, who is also a joint secretary in the Aviation Ministry said.

Srivastava said plans are in line for the regional connectivity policy, which envisages providing regional air connectivity to support traffic at larger airports.

The government is in the process of finalising a policy to promote the regional air connectivity and increase air services in the hinterlands, which is expected to be announced in the next three months.

"So, Pawan Hans, in anticipation, intends to play a vital role in the segment. We want to make use of the smaller airstrip lying across the country," Srivastava said.

There are 290-odd airstrips in the country. Of these, some are operational while most of them are unused.

Srivastava, however, said a concrete plan for the company's proposed move is being worked out, adding, "Details such as operation model, fleet size/type of aircraft or whether to go in for scheduled or non-scheduled services are to be finalised."

On investment that would be required for entering commercial aviation, Srivastava said: "The first thing is to develop the skills which are required (to run an airline). Financial resources are not critical if the company has the skills to manage the business."

"We are operating (as a chopper operator) in a highly competitive market through the open bidding system. We are competing with private operators and are doing well without any government grants.

"The company has the strengths, but we have to develop our strength and skills in the areas of fixed wings planes (operations)," Srivastava said.

One should take the jump but with preparations, he added.

"The company was in a bad shape in FY12 with a loss of Rs 10.35 crore. But we are happy to say that we have sort of turned around with a net profit of around Rs 7-8 crore (unaudited)," Srivastava said.

Attributing the profitable balance sheet to increasing efficiencies of the existing resources, coupled with a series of cost-cutting measures, Srivastava said, "The measures resulted into a net saving of around Rs 9 crore last fiscal."

Even a Parliamentary panel in its report tabled last Friday had said a budgetary support would help the state-owned chopper firm in its expansion plans.

"The committee finds that as against the projected demands of Rs 5 crore under the plan, Pawan Hans was not able to get any budgetary support," the Parliamentary standing committee on transport, tourism and culture headed by CPM leader Sitaram Yechury said in its report.

"The committee feels that necessary budgetary support, if given to Pawan Hans, it can take up its capacity building and skill development/expansion projects without delay. The committee feels that the company should expand its business beyond off-shore operations and present itself as a viable air service provider in unexplored tourist destinations," the report said.