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Customers wary after December 11 helicopter crash: Govt, Pawan Hans look to revive chopper services by cutting rates

Officials are in talk with a privately run helipad at Mahalaxmi Racecourse

Written by Rohit Alok | Mumbai | Published: December 28, 2016 2:35:54 am
Parts of the chopper recovered from the sea off Bombay High. (Express Photo) Parts of the chopper recovered from the sea off Bombay High. (Express Photo)

With customers scared after a private helicopter crashed earlier this month, Pawan Hans, the company that provides chopper rides in Mumbai in collaboration with the Maharashtra Tourism Development Corporation (MTDC), would try to revive its joyride business by subsidising charges, senior officials said. The MTDC services were suspended in April this year, three months after taking off on January 7. Only 383 passengers opted for the ride during the period, with just one customer in April. The chopper that crashed on December 11, killing two passengers and the pilot, was operated by a private firm, Aman Aviation.

“The crash has created a fear. The public sentiment is against us. Hence, when we will restart our services early in January, and offer subsidised fares to attract the public,” said a senior official of Pawan Hans.

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Earlier, the state and the firm had arrived at a base formula of approximately Rs 320 per minute excluding taxes. For a fee of Rs 3,200 per person for a 10-minute flight, the service was open from 10 am to 4 pm daily.

Officials said the services were operated with Bell 206 L4 aircraft, which could seat six passengers besides the pilot. The flights took off from Juhu airport and flew north, keeping to the city’s west so as not to interfere with air traffic from the Mumbai airport.

Both MTDC and Pawan Hans had initially decided to focus on the scenic views of North Mumbai.

Taking off from the tarmac at Juhu, the choppers flew above Juhu beach, Gorai beach, Malwani creek and the pagoda at Esselworld among others. The plan to similarly offer a service for south Mumbaikars remained a non-starter.

Now, officials are in talk with a privately run helipad at Mahalaxmi Racecourse to attract more visitors from south Mumbai. “The Mahalaxmi Racecourse helipad costs Rs 25,000 per landing and is economically unviable. However, we are trying to broker a deal with the racecourse helipad, which will boost heli-tourism and could ferry visitors to Ajanta caves too,” said another senior official.

Officials said the plan chalked out is to operate Pawan Hans helicopters in the first half of the day from Mahalaxmi racecourse and the second half from the Juhu airbase. According to official data, the government has earned Rs 12.26 lakh from the venture.

The MTDC had earlier decided to expand its heli-tours and had surveyed Matheran, Elephanta and the Ajanta caves for this. While heli-tourism in Aurangabad is expected to be launched soon, the tour to Matheran is on hold. “The plan regarding the Matheran circuit is on hold as a committee constituted for effective monitoring of the eco-sensitive zone around the area said the noise of the helicopters would disturb birds,” another senior official said.

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