Don’t blame politicians or corporate executives if they arrive late to a meeting or a visit to a remote facility.
The death of Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S.R. Reddy in the dense Nallamala hills in a helicopter crash has made high profile travellers more cautious about hopping across locations in private helicopters.
Former helicopter pilots and industry watchers admit that after every accident the ripple effect is so great that frequent helicopter flyers choose to stay away from these machines.
“We have had several cancellations after news of Andhra Pradesh chief minister’s crash trickled in,” Rizwan Ahmed, a Bhopal-based charter operator said. “With weeks to go before the October 13 Maharashtra Assembly elections, our order book is just half of what it used to be during an average election.”
According to an industry analyst who did not want to be identified, helicopter travel by executive of India’s largest companies has taken a dip — over 20 corporate houses run twin engine Bell, the mighty Eurocopter and super luxury crafts.
“Many of them have now sent their machines for a thorough check leaving nothing to chance,” the analyst said.
Ahmed’s company would have got bookings for an average of 150 hours of flying where each hour costs Rs 1-1.5 lakh. But business has dipped sharply after the death of Y.S.R. Reddy. “At present, we have orders to supply choppers for barely 60 hours,” Ahmed said.
Unlike aircraft, helicopters pilots have to depend a lot on visual flying or flying with the visual aids or landmarks on the ground.
“Bad weather should be a big no-no especially for helicopter pilots,” a former Indian Air Force pilot who now flies for a mid-sized company and did not wish to be identified said. “But fearing job loss at times, pilots succumb to untenable demands made by politicians. This can prove fatal.”
“Fatal accidents in recent years happened because of lack of a basic decision-making process or skills or a combination of both in aborting the flight,” Air Vice-Marshal (Retd) K. Sridharan, founder of the Rotary Wing Society of India said. “This means ignoring weather conditions and delaying decision-making on either attempting an emergency landing or returning to the point of departure by those flying.”
Shridharan also said that despite directives from Directorate General Of Civil Aviation the number of flight inspectors in India remains low. There is only one inspector for nearly 250 helicopters that operate in India.
“The sentiment in the pilot fraternity takes a dip after the loss of colleagues,” Captain Gulab Singh of Sarthi Aviation that has been ferrying politicians for decades told Hindustan Times. “But now there is a great amount of consciousness among political and corporate leaders who now let the pilots do their jobs.”