Choppers and fixed-wing charter aircraft are churning out serious cash for their owners these days, thanks to parties which are using these to traverse the length and breadth of India for campaigning.
So frequently are these state-of-the-art flying machines being used that references to 'Pushpak Viman', the mythical flying machine from the epic Ramayana, have started doing the rounds.
Be it a Bell, Eurocopter, AgustaWestland or Whirlybird, these power-horses of election campaigning can cruise at an average speed of 160 km an hour and provide a comfortable ride to leaders who have to address at least three rallies a day in far-flung areas.
Operators say the demand is going through the roof, and action has shifted from ferrying business leaders, miners and engineers to worksites and tourists to religious and other destinations to campaign activities.
"On an average a chopper which operates 30 hours per month is now flying for 45-60 hours," Colonel (retired) Sanjay Julka, director operations, India FlySafe Aviation, said.
So lucrative has the chopper rental business has become that some private companies owning small fleet are renting them out. Their deals with political parties are confidential.
Others who offer these services on a daily basis are charging hefty cash by flying leaders to their destinations.
"Though expensive, private helicopters and charter aircraft provide convenience, time-saving, access to voters in far flung areas and safety from mob attacks on the road route," Amber Dubey, partner and head of Aerospace and Defense at global consultancy KPMG, said.
A small chopper with a passenger capacity of 3-4, which in normal circumstances costs nearly Rs 1 lakh per hour, is now carrying a price tag in the range of Rs 3-4 lakh per hour.
The cost of hiring bigger choppers and fixed-wing aircraft with higher carrying capacity can range from Rs 6-10 lakh per hour. Even waiting time is chargeable.
"As election dates near and the campaigning reaches its peak, charges can sometimes even double. However, as most of the fleet is booked in advance, the rates remain flexible but on a higher side," a leading chopper service provider who did not want to be named said.
"The rental process is no different in state election process. However, the costs are one-third of general election operations," an official of the company said.
Another major factor boosting the demand for these machines is the fact that the Election Commission has reduced campaigning days from 21 to 14 days for cutting election expenditure, thereby allowing a very short time for leaders to reach out to voters.
"We have a specific team which deals with the chopper vendor. We block our fleet of choppers or fixed-wing aircraft in advance. Sometimes as early as two months before campaigning begins. That gives us an advantage in negotiating a good deal," said a functionary of a party.
"If the state unit is not capable of hiring a chopper, our party headquarters then provides the transportation through national or regional aviation hubs."
The high frequency of chopper flights has forced the Directorate General of Civil Aviation to issue safety guidelines for pilots.