With no trained pilots to fly the government aircraft for VVIPs, Maharashtra chief minister and other ministers are opting for commercial aircraft or hiring private aircraft.
While this is an added expense to the already burdened exchequer, it also means that the high-end Cessna Citation 560XLS has not been flown for about a year now.
The only pilot qualified to fly the high-end Cessna Citation 560XLS that was bought at the cost of Rs67 crore six years put in his papers about a year ago. Though there are four other pilots, none are experienced to fly the aircraft. The government also has a Sikorsky S76C++ helicopter.
Avatar Singh, a former Air Force officer, was recruited in March but he too hasn’t flown the Citation for 150 hours, a condition mandatory to fly VIP aircraft. The government has now forced to recruit an foreign trainer to help Singh fulfil the condition.
“Singh has an overall experience of more than 3,000 hours required for flying VIP aircraft but does not have the experience of flying the Cesna Citation for more than 150 hours. Two agencies have responded to our bid for a trainer; we expect to recruit one by next month,” said an official from Mantralaya.
“We are looking to recruit a foreign trainer for nine to 10 months and this may cost us about Rs9 lakh a month,” he added.
In absence of qualified pilot the VIPs (the governor, the CM and ministers) are forced to hire private aircraft, from empaneled agencies, at the cost of Rs3 lakh an hour.
“Lack of qualified pilots has forced the CM to opt for commercial flights,” said a CMO official. The officer said CM Devendra Fadnavis had to opt for a hired private aircraft for his recent Israel tour.
Fadnavis, meanwhile, said the problem will be sorted out in a couple of months.
“It is true that it took us a long time to recruit a pilot, forcing us to hire the private aircraft. It was not easy to find one to fly the Citation. We have a pilot now, and he will be able to fly the aircraft after training,” he told HT.
The CM added that recruiting also posed a challenge owing to a lower salary bracket as compared to the private sector.