Chief minister Prithviraj Chavan was handed over the keys of the brand new US-made Sikorsky 76, an eight-seater helicopter and the state's latest buy, on Tuesday.
In the coming three weeks, after the new chopper passes through mandatory tests by the director general of civil aviation (DGCA), Chavan along with governor K Sankarnarayan and deputy chief minister Ajit Pawar, will be able to fly in this aircraft for state functions and events.
The state government purchased the helicopter for Rs52 crore last year and now has a fleet of four aircrafts, including a Cessna fixed-wing aircraft, Dauphin VT-MJ copter and a King Air 350 copter.
The Cessna and the S-76 will be now used for VIP trips, while the remaining two choppers are grounded.
"This aircraft has all safety features installed in it, including some not mandated by the DGCA such as the traffic collision avoidance system," said captain Sanjay Karve, chief pilot for the state government. The aircraft is also equipped with a night landing facility.
The reasoning behind the latest purchase was that the cost of fitting an old helicopter with the DGCA-mandated cockpit voice flight data recorder (CVFDR) was working out to Rs20 crore, which was not cost effective.
This reasoning stands defeated now as the state has failed to auction the old helicopters as planned earlier. After finding no takers, the government may now have to spend that money to modernise one and hand it over to the city police. The home department had requested for the Dauphin as a surveillance chopper.
In 2008, then chief minister Vilasrao Deshmukh had purchased Cessna following clashes between him and his deputy RR Patil over the use of the plane. The aircrafts are by protocol to be used by the chief minister, deputy chief minister and the governor. However, they can be used by any other cabinet minister on demand. On an average, the monthly aviation fuel cost is estimated at Rs10 lakh, depending on the number of trips.