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Is your aircraft air worthy?
Josy Joseph in New Delhi |
April 18, 2004 02:04 IST
Last Updated: April 18, 2004 02:05 IST
The Director General of Civil Aviation on Saturday ordered an inquiry into the crash in Karnataka, which killed an actress and three of her associates, but more importantly asked all the private aircraft and helicopters that are flying politicians around the country on election campaigns to urgently furnish their fitness certificates.
Does that mean that have been flying without such a certificate all this while?
It is a serious issue considering the fact that there are almost 100 small planes and helicopters flying almost non-stop around the country ferrying senior leaders and star campaigners.
Though the exact reasons for the crash that killed Soundarya are not yet known, experts suspect it was the lack of maintenance standards. The fitness certificate needed for any private aircraft or helicopters before each flight are 'managed', officials in Delhi revealed.
During elections, it is a logistical nightmare for political parties to ensure that their star campaigners reach every nook and corner of this vast country. The best way to beat India's size is these private charter aircraft and helicopters.
Under election commission rules, only Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee is entitled to use official government aircraft for his travel, including electioneering.
The Election Commission had turned down an appeal from Deputy Prime Minister L K Advani for a similar privilege. The EC also maintains a strict vigil to ensure that political parties do not misuse aircraft owned by Public Sector Units.
Among those who are religiously using aircraft are Vajpayee, Congress chief Sonia Gandhi, BJP president Venkaiah Naidu and Bollywood stars campaigning for political parties.
In bigger states, "each major party has at least a couple of helicopters," says an official in the Civil Aviation Ministry.
He says the urgent inspections and stricter monitoring norms would be put in place in the next few days. Already elections have witnessed two major crashes including the one today.
In the first incident in March, senior Congress leaders Ahmed Patel, Prithvi Raj Chauhan and Kumari Shelja had narrow escape when their helicopter broke up after landing.
Exploiting lax rules, some of the private operators may be flying around unfit machines without sufficient inspections, admit officials in Delhi. Elections have been harvest seasons for them.
In normal times, the rate of chartering a helicopter for an hour ranges from Rs 50,000 to almost Rs 100,000, depending upon the size of the aircraft. During elections, they go up by a few thousand rupees, according to reports.
There are several of them in the fray, mostly operating out of Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore.
In Mumbai, there are numerous helicopter companies but most of them are stuck with long-term contracts with oil companies. Besides several of their helicopters are bigger machines while political parties prefer smaller ones.
The United Heli Charters and Azal Air in Mumbai have seven helicopters each, while Tata Sons has two and MillionAir has three. Others like Sahara too are in the fray.In Bangalore, there are several companies that offer helicopters and small planes to star campaigners. Taneja Aerospace, Airwords, Deccan Aviation and Vijay Mallya's UB Air are among the favourite of politicians and corporate bigwigs.