Helicopters in demand as elections draw near

March 9th, 2009 - 12:15 pm ICT by IANS  

By Quaid Najmi
Mumbai, March 9 (IANS) They may cost from Rs.45,000 to more than Rs.100,000 for an hour, but that does not seem to deter political parties from hiring helicopters and small aircraft to criss-cross the country for campaigning in the run-up to the Lok Sabha polls.

All major political parties in Maharashtra have decided to charter helicopters in a big way for their top central and state leaders and VIP campaigners.

State Congress spokesman Anant Gadgil said that though the party will use choppers, the exact number and who will use them have yet to be finalised.

An aviation industry source said that the Congress is likely to be the largest single user of private aircraft during the forthcoming elections.

“The party has already booked nearly 20 helicopters, mainly medium to large twin engine ones, air-conditioned helicopters, and another 10 small jet aircraft to ferry its top leaders for the next two months,” the source said.

The Samajwadi Party (SP) will have choppers at the disposal of its leaders Mulayam Singh Yadav and Amar Singh and others who would be campaigning in remote areas of the state, city SP youth wing president Farooq Ghosi said.

The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) will also be hiring some choppers which will be part of a central pool and be given to the campaigners in different states, including Maharashtra.

“Our main campaigners shall be Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi, state unit president Nitin Gadkari, TV actress Smriti Irani and me,” said Vinod Tawde, the general secretary of the BJP’s state unit.

The Nationalist Congress Party (NCP), the Shiv Sena (SS) and the Bahujan Samaj Party (BSP) also plan to use helicopters, though they declined to divulge details at this stage.

Capt. R. Puri, who heads Aircharters India which provides chartered helicopters around the country, said that as the election season has started, choppers are in great demand by the political parties from around the country.

“On an average, a small two-seater can be chartered for around Rs.45,000 per hour while a large 13-seater is available for up to Rs.135,000 per hour,” Puri told IANS.

He however added that these are the standard charter rates, they would differ for political campaigns since the choppers have to travel to remote locations at short notice.

According to Puri, while single engine choppers are in demand for shorter distances, top VVIPs and celebrities prefer twin-engine helicopters, keeping in mind the safety aspects.

There are nearly 55 big and small non-scheduled operators and permit holders offering commercial helicopter charters and many are being wooed by political parties, said Wing Commander B.S. Singh Deo, northern region president of the Rotary Wing Society of India.

While a large majority own just one chopper each, the rest have an average of three or four helicopters in their fleet, Deo said, adding the total helicopter fleet in India in the commercial, private and state-owned category is approximately 200.

There are a few big operators like the state-owned Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd with a fleet of 35 choppers, and Global Vectra Helicorp with 29 helicopters, but these are mainly deployed for offshore operations.

There are around 16 private helicopter owners like big corporate houses and five star hotels, who may also spare a chopper if required by politicians, of course with no financial consideration involved as per rules.

Also, 17 state governments have their own choppers which may be deployed for campaigning purposes as per the Election Commission norms.

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