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Pilot crunch ails BSF choppers

The Border Security Force is turning its fighters into pilots but it is unlikely to help India's first line of defence to take to the skies.

india Updated: Apr 13, 2006 02:16 IST

The Border Security Force is turning its fighters into pilots but it is unlikely to help India's first line of defence to take to the skies.

Four of the six MI-17 BSF choppers have been grounded for the last two years, including a Chetak helicopter that serviced troops along the western Indo-Pak border for the last six months. Reason: No pilots.

A home ministry plan formulated last year to train young para-military officers as pilots has been launched. In the first phase, eight officers are being shortlisted by the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Udan Academy at Rae Bareili for fixed wing aircraft and another two at the army's helicopter training facility. But this plan is expected to take another two years before it can make an impact.

And the shortage of pilots is just the beginning of the BSF's problems. Especially when it does not have aeronautic engineers to keep the aircrafts airborne. "We initially got nine pilots from the IAF under an agreement, but not the required maintenance staff," a senior official said.

The BSF needs at least 40 people in this team; while they have just 22. Which not only means that the BSF can fly only two MI-17 choppers, but is also seen as an indicator of the manpower stress in the IAF.

BSF director-general AK Mitra acknowledges he has a "serious problem" on his hands.

In fact, the only flying machines that have no trouble getting to the skies are the Cheetah helicopters based in J&K and the brand-new Embraer-135BJ Legacy jet inducted last year.

"This is because we had sent three pilots for training to the manufacturer's facility in Brazil," an official said.

But that created another set of problem. The BSF just has one pilot to fly the Avro aircrafts, a military version of the British HS-748 Turboprop. "We have got another from the IAF, but they have threatened to withdraw him," an official said.