keen on buying a helicopter for news operations
Regional heli-service centre
in Sri Lanka?
By Duruthu Edirimuni
A proposal by the Maharaja Group to set up a helicopter-servicing
centre for the South Asian region is currently being reviewed by
the National Security Council (NSC) after it was earlier shot down
by the Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) citing security reasons.
sources in the Ministry of Aviation said last week that Defence
Secretary, Asoka Jayawardene had referred the matter to the NSC
to reassess the possibility of granting approval for the 'heli-servicing
centre,' which will service a particular brand of helicopters.
Wikramanayake, Group Director, Maharaja (Pvt) Ltd., said MTV, the
company's TV media arm while planning to buy a helicopter from an
American manufacturer for its television operations had then seen
a commercial viability in setting up a service centre in the SAARC
declined to comment on the identity of the manufacturer but aviation
sources say it is the Robinson Helicopter Company of Torrance, California,
which has produced over 5,400 helicopters and is currently the world's
leading producer of civil helicopters.
company was willing to back us up for a servicing centre for the
brand that it was marketing and we saw an opportunity to cater to
the region," Wikramanayake said, adding that the manufacturer
had also felt that Sri Lanka is a good location for the service
centre. "This was because we are strategically located."
said the manufacturer was also having long term plans to enter the
South Asian market through this operation. Aviation sources said
the Maharaja Group was planning to buy the R44 Newscopter, which
is specifically designed for high-quality live television broadcasting
by Robinson Helicopters. Apart from the R44 Newscopter, the company
manufactures two more types, the R44 Clipper, which has fixed or
pop-out utility floats for over-water operations and the R44 Police
Helicopter, equipped for airborne law enforcement.
four-seat R44, introduced in 1993 has been the world's top-selling
helicopter for the past four years. With a fast 130 miles per hour
cruise speed and hydraulic controls, it has the same performance
and handling characteristics that expensive turbine helicopters
have, but at one-third the cost.
Helicopter Company presently has a global network of 274 service
centres in 50 countries and has sold about 1,000 of its four-seat
R44 helicopters, worldwide.
authorities said the Maharajah Group proposal, endorsed by the Civil
Aviation Authority (CAA), was turned down by the SLAF early this
year. SLAF had cited security concerns in the country, albeit the
ongoing peace process and had communicated it to NSC. "The
NSC instructed us to hold on to the proposal because they felt it
is not an appropriate time for such a venture, given the present
security situation in the country," Wikramanayake said.
authorities said it was a very good proposal and a high-quality
investment to the country. They were not sure about the amount of
investment, but said that since Robinson Helicopter Company sells
more helicopters than all other North American rotorcraft manufacturers
combined, it was sure to be a multi million-dollar deal.
the sources said the foreign investment was unlikely to materialise
due to delays in its approval. "It will take some time for
NSC to complete the second assessment, by which time it may be too
late, because Robinson would have moved on," an official said.
said this would be a wrong signal to foreign investors because such
a venture would have prompted many more lucrative investments in
the market. Wikramanayake also said that presently the proposal
has taken a back seat in the company's line of business.