Traffic jams in Delhi have become a painfully common feature. For Delhiites it has become a way of life. But when it rains, these traffic jams assume nightmarish proportions. And on Monday night US secretary of state John Kerry got to know what it feels like to be an ordinary commuter on a rainy day in Delhi. Reports said it took Kerry, who is in India to attend the second India-US Strategic and Commercial Dialogue, about two hours to go from the airport to his hotel in South Delhi — a distance of about 21 km.
International media was quick to highlight the crippling traffic jams in the national capital, but such embarrassment is not going to get our netas thinking — because traffic jams are a concept alien to many of our netas.
Is there a way out of this jam? Should our netas and VIPs use helicopters, to both reduce security risks and not further add to the traffic mayhem?
On the face of it, this appears to be a sound solution. After all, commercial helicopter services are available in many cities around the world. But it’ll take a while before it becomes a feasible option in India. Some of the reasons for this are:
•Infrastructure: Helicopter services are not just about building helipads. “Building a helipad in Rohini or some place in the NCR is not enough. City-wide air traffic control is not an easy task,” says Saurabh Joshi, the editor of StratPost, a website that reports and analyses on defence, security and strategic affairs.
•Financial viability: Flying is still an expensive affair in India. The cost and availability of aviation fuel (like Jet-A) aside, the number of commercial helicopters in India are far lower than what some cities, like São Paulo, have. Thus, at the moment, hiring or flying a helicopter is a costly proposition. “Since demand in India is artificially low due to lack of policy support and proper infrastructure, the fleet size and user base is small. The cost of flying per seat-kilometre is high and only government officials, corporate houses and high net worth individuals can afford it. This vicious cycle needs to be broken,” says Amber Dubey, partner and India head of aerospace and defence, KPMG.
•Security: Given the high-profile nature of many places in New Delhi and the fact that there are prohibited airspaces in the national capital, opening air corridors/routes will encompass a security angle to it.
•Perception: Public perception about the safety of helicopters has not caught with the safety standards that have been achieved. Moreover, helicopters are seen as noisy transport options — while this might be true about military helicopters, commercial ones are much quieter with superior rotor blades and shrouded tail rotors.
The good news is that many of these points have been recognised in the new civil aviation policy. The ministry of civil aviation has agreed to have separate regulations for helicopters — this will bring more clarity and hopefully develop more interest in this sector. Perhaps the most important feature is the plan to realise a helicopter emergency medical services.
“The National Civil Aviation Policy (NCAP) allows helicopters to fly in urban areas without ATC clearance and on filing any flight plan as long as they are below 5,000 ft and are away from restricted airspace. This may hopefully open a new chapter in the Indian helicopters industry,” says Dubey.
While there is a case for increasing the commercial use of helicopters, restricting it to transport only netas and VIPs defeats the purpose. It feeds into the existing imbalances in society and is a sad reflection of the “VIP culture” that our administrators are all so used to.
We have systems in place to allow the smooth transit of our netas, but nothing for emergency ambulances. It reflects the importance we give to the health sector. Ambulances caught in traffic jams are a common sight on Delhi roads.
Kerry was caught in a traffic jam that was caused because our roads are built with little planning, they have poor drainage systems and their maintenance is substandard. Flying our netas or VIPs alone will not address these problems.