Even as the government is struggling to give wings to the much touted heli-taxi services aimed to tap high-end tourists - Euro Copters - the world's leading aerospace group - is among five others vying to provide air services in Himachal Pradesh.
While the government wants them to start the services early, the private air service providers have asked the state's tourism and civil aviation department to first workout viability.
The tourism and civil aviation department is making repeated bids to persuade heli-taxi operators to start its services in the state, as it expects to get response at least during the winter months when the hinterland of the state, particularly high-altitude areas, are covered with snow.
The department held a meeting with heli-taxi operators where half of dozen companies showed their keenness. Those who participated in the meeting included representatives of Aryan group, Sangeeta Aviation, Sky Choppers Logistic Limited, Euro Copters and Supreme Aviations, which run a fixed wing services in different parts of the country. Euro Copters is now subsidiary owned by European Aeronautic Defense and Space Company (EADS), which is one of the three largest groups in the world.
The tourism and civil aviation department discussed with them the modalities to start the heli-taxi services at least in main towns of Shimla, Kullu, Manali and Dharamsala.
Once again heli-taxi providers cited inadequate parking facilities for helicopter parking to start the services. Representatives of the company has also asked the state government to finalise the routes, helipads, suitable accommodation for tourists, fuel arrangements, flying hours and other issues like smooth flying permissions.
“A few representatives even wanted the state government to fix some government quota of seats in case no tourists turn up or a few passengers turn up,” said an official of the tourism department, who was part of the meeting.
The tourism department had sought assistance from divisional commissioners to find parking places for the helicopters.
In Shimla, the government had inspected three sites one at Bharari, other on Tutikandi, Shimla bypass, and the third one is on the bypass connecting Sanjauli to Dhalli. All three sites are on private lands.
Similarly, there was proposal to set up helipads near Dharamsala, Kullu and Manali towns. The private heli-taxi providers rued that it was unviable to start heli-taxi service from the Shimla airport as it takes nearly an hour to reach Shimla town.
“We held a preliminary round of meeting with private taxi operators and asked them to give us in writing what they really expected from the government,” said managing director, Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corporation, Mohan Chauhan - who is also director, tourism and civil aviation.
Heli-taxi services started for the first time during the previous Prem Kumar Dhumal-led BJP government, but owing to various reasons it failed to take off.