LAND, SKY and all in between

On November 20 a chopper, Bell 407, lifted into the blue Kochi sky carrying six passengers of cruise liner MV Azamara Quest.

It took off from a spot near the BTP berth on Willingdon Island and in 15 minutes glided over Fort Kochi, Cherai beach and the mainland, giving visitors an aerial view of the estuary around which the city is built. “We did eight trips that day,”says Anil Narayanan, director Operations, Chipsan Aviation Pvt Limited, the company which has launched heli rides for cruise line passengers last month. The rides are in association with Cochin Port Trust, DTPC and Kerala Tourism.

Chipsan Aviation was founded in 2002 by two Malayalis Sunil Narayanan, a former Air Force officer and Daisy Cherian with an aviation background. Anil Narayanan, brother of Sunil too is a former air force officer and the two are from Thrissur. Based in New Delhi, Chispan operates in Kedaranath, Pune and currently in Jharkhand, for the upcoming elections. In Karnataka their operations range from rides at the Mysore Dassera, Hampi festival, Udupi festival and to Jog Falls.

In Kochi, the service is primarily aimed at tourists, specifically the ones who arrive on cruise ships. M. Beena , Chairperson Cochin Port Trust says, “Realising that 25 % of the passengers arriving by cruise ships were repeat visitors a need was felt to induct more tours and experiences in their time-bound itinerary. Cochin Port Trust identified Jatayu Earth Centre in Kollam and Munnar as new destinations and a helicopter service to these tourist places was mooted.”

‘City by air’ experience

Last season (November to April) nearly 50 cruise ships arrived in Kochi. This included some high capacity luxury liners like Queen Mary 2 and Spectrum of The seas, the latter carrying 4,000 passengers and 1,700 crew. In December eight ships are expected to arrive with a total 12,000 passengers and 5,000 crew. Some of the major ships expected include Royal Caribbean, Oceania Cruises and Costa Cruises. As most ships berth maximum for a day, passengers have only eight to ten hours to spend.

In the first helicopter trip, passengers opted for a short ‘City by air’ experience, but there are services available are to many touristy places in South Kerala. A seven minute ride costs ₹ 3,000. A three hour trip that includes Jatayu Earth Centre, Muziris, Athirapilly water falls, Munnar, Thekkady, Wagamon, Alappuzha and Kumarakom backwaters costs ₹3,30,000 for a group of five.

“We have tied up with Zuri resort in Kumarakom which has a helipad and with a resort in Munnar, where there are landing facilities. Some domestic charters have been flying to Jatayu Centre and Bekal Fort,” says Anil.

Though the new service is dependant, as of now, on the arrival of luxury liners, Anil sees great scope in it for round- the- year operations and for use by domestic travellers. But there are challenges, he says. “Though Kerala has four international airports there is not a single helicopter operator.”

For a helicopter service to be viable there is a need for it to have a minimum of 45 flying hours per month which may be a challenge in Kerala, given the fact that the rides are not cheap. The heliride to Athirapilly is also mired in controversy with the social forestry departmentconcerned about noise pollution in an ecologically fragile area. Though Anil counters, “we fly at 1,000 ft and the sound is equivalent to a moving truck.”

Source: The Hindu Dated: 06.12.2019