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HindustanTimes Thu,24 Apr 2014

IAF may struggle to keep VVIP choppers airworthy

Rahul Singh, Hindustan Times  New Delhi, May 03, 2013
First Published: 00:26 IST(3/5/2013) | Last Updated: 01:57 IST(3/5/2013)

Forget flying VVIPs, the AW-101 choppers already inducted by the Indian Air Force (IAF) may struggle to fly if essential spares remain unavailable in the coming months.

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This is a more immediate concern for the air force than the fate of the nine VVIP choppers yet to be delivered by UK-based AgustaWestland, after the government put the controversial Rs. 3,760-crore contract on hold in February.

Keeping the three AW-101 choppers already inducted airworthy may turn out to be a challenge, with the air force grappling with restrictions accompanying the decision to freeze the deal.

HT has learnt that a shipment of five to six containers of spare parts, dispatched by the AgustaWestland, has been gathering dust at a warehouse here.

With the contract in limbo, it is unclear if the air force will be able to access the spares.

Acknowledging that maintaining the VVIP choppers was critical, a top official said the air force would approach the defence ministry to get the spares released.

"We definitely need to get hold of those spares to keep the choppers up and running," he said.

The air force may have to pay storage fees to the customs department if the possession of the containers is not taken.
The VVIP chopper deal is the first instance of a military contract being put on hold after deliveries had begun.

The government had in February put on hold all further payments to AgustaWestland, a subsidiary of Italian defence group Finmeccanica. It has so far paid up the chopper firm Rs. 1,300 crore.

No decision has yet been taken to blacklist the firm, as the defence ministry is waiting for the CBI to wrap up its probe into the bribery allegations.

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