Aug 05, Colombo: The Sri Lanka Air Force (SLAF) is currently studying the feasibility of purchasing several Mi-17 helicopters from Russia under a credit line.
Cabinet Spokesperson Minister Keheliya Rambukwella has said that the Sri Lanka has provision to procure up to 14 helicopters under the Russian credit line but the SLAF would decide on the number of helicopters to be purchased following the study.
The US$ 300 million 10-year credit agreement was signed during Sri Lankan President Mahinda Rajapaksa's state visit to Russia in February 2010.
Sri Lanka last year signed a contract to purchase 14 Mi-171 helicopters from Rosoboronexport State Corporation, a state-owned arms enterprise under the Russian credit deal.
Rambukwella has explained that there was no immediate need to purchase helicopters for the SLAF after end of the war but the SLAF is now considering the feasibility of acquiring the helicopters since it has ventured in to commercial domestic passenger transport through Helitours, the domestic service arm of the SLAF.
The helicopters that would be purchased by SLAF would be assigned to Helitours to expand its current fleet and the loan would be repaid from the profits earned by the company, the Minister explained.
However, Rambukwella said the SLAF was unlikely to use the entire credit line to purchase 14 helicopters, but would decide according to the requirements of Helitours.
According to the Minister, the SLAF was performing well in commercial domestic passenger transport, which is an area where the private sector is hesitant to enter.
The domestic arm of the SLAF says its vision is to be the "leading domestic airline in Sri Lanka", committing themselves to be highly productive, safe and people-oriented.
Helitours offer sightseeing tours, rides for corporate events, weddings and other special occasions, aerial news gathering and photography, aerial surveying and surveillance, and promotions and advertising.