Backed by the go-ahead of the cabinet sub-committee on civil aviation, the Punjab directorate of civil aviation has come up with an ambitious Rs 100-crore plan to build its fleet of aircraft for VVIPs, including governor, chief minister and deputy chief minister.
The Rs 100-crore proposal includes purchase of a helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft for the state-owned fleet. Presently, these dignitaries use helicopters hired from private companies.
"With changing security norms and hectic schedules of dignitaries, we need at least two flying machines - a twin-engine helicopter and a fixed-wing aircraft and their tentative cost is Rs 100 crore," said aviation adviser to the government Abhay Chandra. A chopper would cost Rs 35 crore and aircraft Rs 60-65 crore. The directorate has given options of different models and makes of helicopters to the subcommittee to choose from.
As on date, the state government roughly spends Rs 14 crore every year on keeping VVIPs airborne. The government hires a helicopter at Rs 1.4 lakh per hour and each month, it clocks 35-60 flying hours. "If we maintain our own fleet, the cost of flying would come down drastically, especially as the directorate has arrangements for maintenance as well," said Chandra. Every year, the cost of hiring these flying machines increases by 10-15%.
Punjab and Himachal are the only states without their own fleet of aircraft. J&K, Haryana, Rajasthan, Uttarakhand, Madhya Pradesh, Gujarat, Maharashtra and almost all southern states have their own fleet. UP has the maximum nine aircraft and helicopters and all are in working condition. Punjab's state-owned fixed-wing aircraft crashed in 2008, after which it has been without a flying machine.
The government has been working on the plan to rebuild its fleet for 10 years, but without much success. But this time it seems serious, as it is facing acute shortage of helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft that meet VVIP norms. As per security norms, a helicopter has to be twin engine and the pilot must have a flying experience of 3,000 hours.
It was further revealed that checking antecedents of pilots sent to fly VVIPs was a necessary drill and if the government purchased its own fleet, it would employ only those who met the criteria and save the tiring drill.
An official revealed that at times, the aviation directorate had to pay additional cost to arrange helicopters from as far as Mumbai and private aviation companies shirked from entering into long-term contracts.
Chandra said the directorate had told the state government that it would have to shell out the money for it, as the banks did not finance aircraft and helicopters.
As per government regulations, other than governor, CM and deputy CM, ministers with cabinet rank, chief secretary, DGP and principal secretary (home) are entitled to use this fleet, with the approval of the chief minister. State dignitaries can also use the fleet, if the CM so desires.