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Kerala invites air taxi operators for tourists

In an attempt to promote tourism in the state, Kerala chief minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has invited the private sector to start helicopter taxi services in the state.
By HT Correspondent | IANS, Thiruvananthapuram
UPDATED ON JUL 16, 2008 05:49 PM IST

Kerala's tourism minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan on Wednesday invited the private sector to start helicopter taxi services in the state.

"We welcome all those interested in operating helicopter air taxis to link tourist destinations in Kerala," Balakrishnan said in the assembly when asked what steps had been taken to promote tourism in the state.

"All facilities will be provided by the government," he added.

The biggest impediment to growth in Kerala tourism is poor infrastructure, with a lot of time being wasted on travel on bad roads.

It takes over 16 hours to travel from one end of the state to another by train. The government feels air taxi services would come handy for tourists.

But E. Najeeb, head of Air Travel Enterprises, which last year launched a private helicopter service, was not so convinced.

"We found out that to break even in a month, a helicopter needed to do around 30 hours. This didn't happen, the venture was unviable, so we stopped it," he told IANS.

Najeeb said the state government should chip in by occasionally hiring helicopters to make it viable for an operator. "The demand is there, but for those with just one helicopter, it may not be viable," he added.

Right now, important tourist destinations have landing facilities for helicopters, and at places such as Thekkady and Munnar, resorts too have helipads.

And with the real estate sector also taking off in the state, a few leading builders have now started to prepare landing facilities at their projects.

Balakrishnan's statement comes at a time when Kerala saw an 18.41 percent increase in foreign tourist arrivals last fiscal, and 7.7 percent in domestic holidayers.

Last fiscal, nearly 555,000 foreign tourists and 6.8 million domestic tourists visited Kerala.

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