Most helicopter pilots dread turbulent weather during flight, given the limited weather data they have access to, and the situation gets infinitely worse when the passengers are VIPs, said sources.
Politicians, movie stars and sometimes chopper companies themselves force pilots to continue with a flight even when the weather is not conducive to making a safe journey, said senior pilots.
“It is most rampant during election campaigns and movie promotions. As the stake is high, passengers resist change in flight plan even if the weather is unsafe,” said a senior pilot with a private helicopter firm in Vile Parle, requesting anonymity.
“Refusing such flight duty becomes a pressure point as another pilot is bullied to make the trip.”
In the parliamentary standing committee’s 169th report on transport, tourism and culture, tabled in Rajya Sabha in October 2011, this concern was raised.
The report had recorded instances of forceful take-offs and landings of helicopters in low visibility, bad weather and during nights.
“The personnel are put under pressure not to oppose these deficiencies due to commercial or other reasons. It happens mainly in the case of chartered helicopters and those under the state governments flying VIPs. Such violations of rules have led to fatal accidents,” the report said.
Experts said companies turn a blind eye towards such violations as opposition could restrict their revenue stream.
“Most companies in India have a maximum fleet size of three choppers so they could be putting up with such grave lapses,” said K Sridharan, president of Rotary Wing Society of India.