Helicopters - The Multi Utility Machines
The vertical lift technology of helicopters has far more utilitarian aspects to its credit than only being an effective mode of transport. In India, civil helicopters are performing transportation business, be it executive or offshore. But, with Indian skies opening up to international aviation and domestic aviation getting global, it is time we understand that helicopters are the connecting links towards its success. Helicopters can reach where nothing else can. Helicopters can perform EMS (Emergency Medical Service), Law Enforcement, Power Line Survey, Fire Fighting, SAR (Search and Rescue), ENG (Electronic News Gathering) at the same time as connecting the remotest places to the center. While effort is on to improvise our country's infrastructure by introducing metro rail, building expressways, modernizing railways, building better airports, it is time to incorporate helicopter services as well. Heliports along the expressways and railway tracks will enable timely rescue services in case of accidents.
We need to understand that there is a difference between getting there and getting there fast. There is a distinction between supporting lives and life support. In the western countries EMS is a very common service where in case of any medical requirement or accident, helicopters provide air ambulance service. Since India's telecom has become excellent with mobile network available even in the oddest of places, it is possible to have a hotline to connect to this service and make EMS helicopter available wherever required. It is a good idea for insurance companies to integrate with the management of EMS by integrating with various agencies. For example, the toll tax collected at expressways can incorporate a small amount of insurance money to insure passengers of availing EMS in case of any mishap. Credit card companies can also get their customers insured for this service. Hospitals can offer this service to the corporates who would not mind insuring their employees for EMS in case required. Options can be explored. The government needs to integrate with all the relevant sectors to make this happen. EMS is very common in the developed nations and it can be done here as well. It is definitely required to manage the second largest population of the world.
Another very important segment where vertical lift technology makes its presence almost inevitable is homeland security or law enforcement. The helicopter is often referred to as a "Force Multiplier." Studies have shown that helicopter teams have a felony arrest rate as high as six to ten times that of car teams alone. The helicopter has also been shown to support, or "back up", as many as twenty-six ground vehicles within its geographical area of responsibility. The aerial vantage gives the helicopter about 15 times the surveillance capacity of a ground unit. This vantage point plus the speed in which a helicopter can get a trained police observer over a crime scene (usually less than two minutes), provides the containment that essentially assures an arrest. A police helicopter can also be shared between public service agencies for duties such as traffic survey, fire control, EMS, environmental surveys, zoning and other public service missions. In 1948, NYPD (New York Police Department) placed its first helicopter into service, a Bell 47 D and since then there has been a significant evolution in Air Borne law enforcement. This evolution should bring in a change into India's law enforcement as well. The first step in this regard would be to look beyond that the helicopter is an expensive luxury. The helicopter has been proven by police departments around the world to be very cost effective means of increasing the efficiency of a department's existing resources, when properly utilized.
Other utility functions, which can be performed by a helicopter, are fire fighting, Electronic news gathering, power line survey, offshore oil and gas support, aerial application and air tourism. While heli tourism, offshore support and to some extent ENG has become possible in India, we still have to explore their use in India into fire fighting, power line survey and aerial application.
Helicopters play a leading role in fire fighting support. It provides observers a platform to assess a situation and provide ground units and other aircraft a clear description of the problem and how to combat it. Pinpointing location, moving equipment, finding water sources and rescuing victims from high-rise buildings can also be done much faster.
Electronic newsgathering is another major area of thrust for helicopter use these days. As our society becomes media savvy everyday, new agencies and media groups need to get news faster and crispier. Thus, helicopters are used to reach the place of incident faster and report from there on. Already, some news agencies are using helicopters for ENG but with news channels multiplying everyday, the use of helicopters can be exploited much more. The 2010 Common Wealth games being held in Delhi are a good platform to exploit the use of helicopters to their maximum potential in providing live and express coverage.
A helicopter best performs power line, pipeline, and fibre optic line patrol. Its excellent visibility and the ability to fly low and slow, or hover and land make the helicopter the best patrol aircraft. Cathode protection surveys utilizing a helicopter in the remote access areas can actually save companies money over the conventional methods. Surveys can be accomplished 4-5 times faster using a helicopter.
Helicopter Missions are endless. They respond to accidents, coordinate disaster relief, make traffic surveys, fly Air Medical missions, track suspects and stem the growth and distribution of narcotics. It is time for India to look towards these machines beyond their present image of corporate transport to an indispensable source of support towards modernizing infrastructure of India.