Polls help chopper charters fly out of Covid mire | India News – Times of India

MUMBAI: The assembly elections have provided a booster shot to the Indian helicopter charter industry, which was reeling under the impact of the Covid pandemic. Industry insiders say that it’s the first time ever that helicopters have been in high demand for assembly poll campaign in states like West Bengal, Tamil Nadu and Assam.
In states like Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Gujarat, political parties use helicopters like cars, but the scene was different in other states, said an industry veteran.
“Traditionally, politicians in the south opt for to roadshows and use the media for canvassing. But in this election, almost 10-12 helicopters are being used, which is somewhat of a record,” said Capt Uday Gelli, western region president, Rotary Wing Society of India. “In West Bengal and Assam, which are larger states and are also experiencing intense competition, an estimated 20-plus helicopters are being used,” he added.
This time around, even small-time politicians have hired helicopters for canvassing votes, Capt Gelli said.
Mandar Bharde, managing director of charter company MAB Aviation Pvt Ltd said, “About 90% of the two dozen-odd on-shore twin-engine helicopters in India are currently engaged in election campaigning. Parties are now trying to pull a couple of helicopters engaged in offshore flying to oil rigs as well to fill the 25% shortage in supply.”
However, single-engine helicopters are in moderate demand as an aviation circular issued a few years ago made twin engines mandatory even for state cabinet ministers, he added.
Capt Gelli said, “Earlier, other than Jayalalithaa, no one hired a chopper in Tamil Nadu. This time, Stalin, Kamal Haasan and many others are using choppers.”
While Jayalalithaa had hired a Bell 412 for her last election — she preferred it as the state too owned one and she was familiar with it — the current favourite among politicians is the Agusta-Westland 139 for its quiet cabin, leg room and speed. “It’s priced at Rs 4-5 lakh an hour compared to Rs 2.5 lakh/hour for an entry-level twin engine,” said Bharde.
Apart from cutting travel time, another reason why politicians hire helicopters is that they are crowdpullers in mofussil areas. “Helicopters don’t fly to many of these remote places other than during elections or natural disasters. People flock to see them, many crowd around to touch the helicopter and even meet the pilots,” said Capt Gelli.
But Kerala has continued to play its role of the traditional outlier with zero demand for helicopters. “A former Kerala CM once told me that the surest way to lose an election is to land in a helicopter in Kerala to seek votes,” said Bharde. “People don’t take kindly to candidates flying around in helicopters. Only the Delhi brass like the PM, home minister and the Gandhis are allowed to get away with charter aircraft. Kerala CMs, too, have stayed off helicopters and it continues to be so,” he said.
Then there are states like Assam that pose logistical challenges with their difficult terrain and early sunrise/sunset, and so have a high demand for helicopters.
Ajay Vir Singh, managing director, AirKing Charters Pvt Ltd, said, “About 12-15 helicopters are now parked in Assam for election campaigning as against 8-10 last time. In 2005, when I had ventured into this field, the demand for helicopters during elections wasn’t that extensive. But now, helicopters have become an essential weapon to fight an election.”
Capt Gelli said, “Considering that 2020 was a very bad year for aviation, these elections have come as a lifeline for some helicopters companies.”

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