Helicopters Showcased for Military, the Rich

Ivanov Sitting At The Controls Of An Ansat Helicopter At The Expo, One Of Several Machines He Viewed On Thursday.Ivanov sitting at the controls of an ANSAT helicopter at the expo, one of several machines he viewed on Thursday.
After a week of attending a presidential inauguration, a Victory Day parade and a Cabinet reshuffle, Deputy Prime Minister Sergei Ivanov enjoyed a change of pace Thursday, clambering into several state-of-the-art flying machines at a helicopter expo.

"The very fact that we are holding this event shows that the government is paying a lot of attention to the helicopter sector," Ivanov said at the opening of the three-day HeliRussia exhibition in northwest Moscow.

Russian and foreign manufacturers vied to show off military and luxury helicopters, on offer to everyone from the military and government departments to businesses and the country's super-rich.

"In a country the size of Russia, we can't do without helicopters," Ivanov said at the exhibition's opening at the Crocus Expo center. He then set off on a tour of the cavernous hall, trying out the controls in a number of helicopter cockpits and chatting with foreign exhibitors.

After years of restructuring the sector, the government has come up with ambitious targets for bolstering the production of both military and civilian helicopters and upping sales abroad. Once a symbol of Soviet strength, the helicopter industry and output has slumped, with horrific images of crash sites and midair collisions dominating.

While Canada, the world's second-largest country, boasts 56 helicopters for every 1 million people Russia, with 70 percent more territory, can only muster 14 helicopters for every 1 million people.

Featured prominently at the exhibition was Russian Helicopters, the state-owned holding set up in 2006 to consolidate the vast bulk of the country's helicopter makers. Russian Helicopters is 100 percent owned by Oboronprom, which is in turn part owned by Rosoboronexport, the state arms trader that forms the basis for new state corporation Russian Technologies.

Vladimir Filonov / MT
A visitor passing by an Agusta Westland Koala helicopter at the Crocus Expo.

"The consolidation of the industry has helped us to streamline the industry," said Andrei Reus, general director of Oboronprom.

The corporate restructuring has led the government to draw up grandiose targets to triple output to 500 helicopters per year over the next seven years and grab 15 percent of the international market. The development plan is to be approved early next year.

Naturally, with Russia now boasting more billionaires than any country except for the United States, large swaths of the exhibition hall were given over to firms looking to cash in on the transportation needs of the country's super-rich.

The discerning helicopter buyer visiting the fair could choose between red and green leather for the upholstery of their Versace interiors.

"Russia is for sure one of the potentially most satisfying markets," said Ricardo Capranella, a spokesman for exhibitor Agusta-Westland, the helicopter subsidiary of Italian firm Finnmeccanica.

The company is pitching helicopters to mega-rich private buyers and corporate clients and currently has 14 orders on its books in Russia, Capranella said.

Company AirTaxi was offering punters with a few hundred thousand dollars to spare the opportunity to kit out their Kazan-made helicopters with the same walnut parquetry, flat-screen televisions and leather sofas favored by Middle Eastern heads of state.

For those who don't yet have their own helicopter, one company was offering piloted rides and a chance to stay in its very own "helicopter motel" on a lake near the Volga River.

But at 2,000 euros ($3,100) for the hour's ride in a seven-seater chopper to get there, the experience still doesn't come cheap.