Helicopter travel within the GCC's commercial sector is still in its infancy yet could open up major horizons, particularly for the region's advancing tourism sector, according to Bell Helicopter. David Sale, who heads the company’s regional sales for the Middle East and C.I.S., said though the region has a proliferation of helipads on major buildings, particularly in the five-star hotel and resort segment, helicopter travel is held back by a lack of dedicated infrastructure and operating systems. “The sector in the region is still in its infancy yet the whole region needs it,” he said. Sale said the issue needs to be addressed by OEMs with infrastructure and regulatory operations required a combined approach by interior ministries, civil aviation regulators and operators, tourism regulators and planners and hotel owners and operators.
Saudi Arabia, he said, could particularly benefit from heliports to get people from major airports to other cities quickly and cost-effectively suggesting the infrastructure could be built into VVIP terminals. In the UAE, he said, the tourism sector would benefit. “The hotels needs to get involved as well because the large inherent investment needs to be spread throughout operators.” Sale said one possible scenario which could drive the segment would be partial ownership. “It’s a matter of getting operators to do a business case together and move it forward together.” “There would have to be some change in thinking because currently the processes are for major airport operations and not inter-domestic helicopter flights, and issue we have raised and are trying to address,” he said.
In 2014 the GCAA in the UAE issued a requirement for all helipads in the country to be approved for operations. It issues its first helipad licence in December 2014 to Dubai’s signature Burj Al Arab hotel. Helicopter sightseeing tours are offered in Abu Dhabi by Falcon Aviation Services using a six-seater Eurocopter EC-130. In Dubai a number of operators offer tours in collaboration with destination management companies.