Regular helicopter passenger operations losing popularity
The Russian government’s resolution #1212 on subsidizing aircraft lease payments in parallel with improvements to ground infrastructure is negatively affecting the volume of commercial helicopter passenger services, say providers polled by Show Observer. For example, the resolution has prompted the carriers ChukotAVIA and Polar Airlines, which used to operate Mil Mi-8 helicopters, to purchase DHC-6 Twin Otter Series and Pilatus PC-6 fixed-wing turboprops respectively. The Primorsky Territory administration also opted to replace its Mi-8s with DHC-6s. “As new Twin Otter-capable airfields get built and existing strips get improved, Mi-8 helicopters will stop serving these locations, meaning that their flying time will decrease,” says ChukotAVIA head Tomash Troyanovsky. “The DHC-6 is cheaper in operation than the Mi-8. However, there is still work for the Mi-8s, which perform medical flights and so on. The helicopter can fly medical missions in worse weather conditions than the DHC-6. Chukotka is known for its high winds and blizzards, and helicopters are immune to crosswinds.” The Syktyvkar, Komi Republic-based regional airline Komiaviatrans is also reporting a trend towards higher use of fixed-wing aircraft. Says the carrier’s general manager Alexander Ponomarev: “The region is evolving. New roads get built; all-season blacktops replace winter roads. Everything is changing. In this sense, our switching to fixed-wing aircraft is partly due to the fact that helicopter services are gradually migrating out of our region and into Siberia.” A couple of years ago, Andrey Martirosov, the head of Russia’s largest helicopter operator UTair, complained about the high operating costs of Mi-8 helicopters on regional routes: “In my opinion, the potential of using helicopters as local transports is nearing its exhaustion. In the future, fixed-wing aircraft will be used for this purpose.” On the other hand, given Russia’s vast territory and underdeveloped transport infrastructure, helicopters as passenger aircraft are unlikely to disappear any time soon.