As campaigning for the general elections gain momentum, various political parties and candidates are rushing to hire helicopters and their total chopper bill for the entire poll season is set to surge well beyond Rs 1,000 crore.
According to industry estimates, most of about 500 choppers and small aircrafts available in the country have been already booked and the demand this time around is more than double from the last Lok Sabha polls.
“The demand for the helicopters for poll campaign is pretty high this time and has more than doubled from that in last general elections as every party and even independent candidates want to get a flying machine,” International Air Charter CEO Anil Kakkar told PTI.
The fleet of state-owned Pawan Hans Helicopters is totally booked and there were many more pending applications, an official said.
Another aviation charter service provider Hi-Flying Aviation Managing Director Nitin Yende said that election was a big event and there was increasing demand from different political parties for both small and big sized helicopters and aircraft for campaigning.
"Congress and BJP parties followed by regional outfits like Samajwadi party, NCP and BSP are parties which are booking the helicopters in a big way,“ he added.
It costs between Rs 60,000-1,50,000 per hour of flying time and about Rs 10,000 per hour as ground charges to hire one helicopter or small aircraft, depending on the seating and engine capacity. Besides, there are other costs such as air-strip charges.
The daily average cost is estimated at Rs five-seven lakh, giving a collective bill of more than Rs 1,000 crore for 500 choppers or small aircraft for the entire campaign period ending in early May.
Most of the 500 helicopters and small aircraft available with over 20 aviation firms in the country are already booked, International Air Charters’ Kakkar said.
Kakkar said that the demand of the helicopters was much more than the supply and his company was trying to hire more machines to meet the increased requirement.
"We have a lot of booking from various parties pending for our helicopter,“ an official of Pawan Hans said.
Hi-Flying Aviation’s Yende said that most of the parties prefer choppers for flying their leaders as they can land on a very small places of the remotest areas.
“The big political parties are opting for brand new helicopters with advanced amenities for the safe and comfortable flight of their top leaders,” he said.
Given the guidelines laid down by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation and other security reasons, parties are mainly hiring twin engine helicopters for their top leaders while middle level campaigners are to be flown in single engine choppers.