State-owned helicopter operator Pawan Hans is in talks with the Indian Navy to supply on lease utility choppers that are urgently needed to plug a critical gap that threatens to dull operational capability.
With plans to acquire new utility choppers stuck due to delays in the procurement process, the Navy has been looking at an option to lease 12-16 choppers on an immediate basis, a number that could possibly go significantly up if the model works.
Sources have told ET that Pawan Hans is projecting itself as a reliable option to the Navy, leveraging on the fact that it has an existing fleet of choppers fit for the role and operational hub co-located with a major naval base in Mumbai.
While the Navy is yet to decide on how to go ahead, a leasing contract could significantly increase the attractiveness of Pawan Hans for investors. The helicopter company is currently up for disinvestment of all government stake, with at least four bids received by private parties.
Pawan Hans did not respond to a query by ET on its talks with the Navy. The Navy is facing an acute shortage of helicopters, with its fleet of Chetak choppers nearing the end of service life. It does have the indigenous Advanced Light Helicopters (ALH) in service but the choppers are unable to operate from all platforms.
The Navy has been trying to push ahead a ₹21,000 crore Make in India contract to acquire new Naval Utility Helicopters (NUH) but the programme has been delayed after complications over the entry of public sector unit HAL.
Given that the planned procurement would take at least six years before the first chopper is delivered, the Navy has been looking at the option of leasing choppers to plug this gap, which would later be retrofitted with light weapons as per its requirement.
As reported, the Navy had approached foreign vendors in December to understand if such choppers can be made available for short-term lease. The requirement projected was for 12-16 helicopters where the leasing company could maintain the aircraft that would be operated by a Navy crew. Sources said while several leasing companies operate with fairly large fleet size, it would not be easy for them to offer choppers to the Navy, given the risk of operational flying and the challenges in getting such machines insured.