“The helicopter has become the new drum in these elections. With the noise the machine makes, no one needs to announce his arrival," says colonel VS Guleria, a helicopter pilot with Deccan Aviation who has been flying politicians to far-flung places in Uttar Pradesh for campaigning.
About 20 helicopters are said to be flying politicians from various parties in these polls. For the 80-odd civilian helicopters in the country, elections are the biggest business season. "There were 24 to 25 choppers flying in the last Bihar elections. Because the UP elections are stretched over seven phases, the number deployed is a bit lower," Guleria told HT from Banda near Bareilly.
João Aiso of Brazil, the only foreigner heli-pilot in India, has been flying his Bell 407 for Summit Aviation in the UP sector for over a month. "I love flying to Amarnath, because I am a Shiva devotee and the hills there are fantastic," he says. "But UP is a difficult sector."
The flights cost a packet. Among the companies raking it in this season are Pawan Hans, Trans Bharat, Span Air and Indo Pacific.
For a small craft like the Bell 206, they charge a minimum of Rs 45,000 an hour. For a twin-engine Augusta machine, the cost could go up to Rs 1.25 lakh. Political parties which strike long-term deals, of course, get a hefty discount.
But with the permitted spending limit per assembly candidate varying between Rs 5 lakh and 10 lakh, there may be some explaining to do at the Election Commission's office sometime soon.