Two days after the Assembly elections were announced in Maharashtra and Haryana, chopper pilots sought revision of the safety rules for crew ferrying politicians during poll campaigns.
The Rotary Wing Society of India (RWSI), an industry think-tank formed by helicopter pilots, sought changes in rules introduced during the general elections, which they said ‘added pressure’ on the flight crew. The body cited new rules such as pilots personally having to frisk politicians as well as the approval of helipads that were not vetted for chopper operations. “We would sent out a list of dos and don’ts based on the feedback received from charter operators during the last elections,” said captain Uday Gelli, western region, president of RWSI.
One of the primary demands raised by the body was that politicians should be educated about air travel rules to avoid flying tempers and incidents of forced landings. On April 5, political activists in Beed allegedly assaulted a helicopter pilot after a flight was delayed because of a delay in permissions issued by the local administration. “Politicians should be aware that several aspects of flying are not within the pilots’ control,” said a senior pilot, requesting anonymity.
According to private jet operators, the aerial poll campaigns in the state are likely to pick up around September 25 because a handful parties have named candidates. “The national political parties have booked flying hours after September 25,” said a senior executive with private charter company in Vile Parle, adding that while state politicians are engaging operators from Mumbai, political parties from Haryana are booking private choppers from Delhi.
According to feedback received by the RWSI, several safety violations took place during the Lok Sabha polls. The presentation shared with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation stated politicians’ cars were freely permitted to frequent sensitive airfields. (see box for details).