The state government will soon go shopping for a new helicopter because its old Dauphin VT-MJ was grounded following directives from the Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA).
The cabinet led by Chief Minister Ashok Chavan decided to gift itself a brand new helicopter and cleared a budget of Rs 70 crore for it on Thursday.
The earlier helicopter, Dauphin, was bought for Rs 23.15 crore in 2000 and by November 2009, when it was grounded, it had clocked in 1,950 hours of flying. The state is now looking to buy either a French Eurocopter-155 or the American Sikorsky 76.
The Sikorsky and Eurocopter both are state-of-the-art and accommodate 12 to 13 passengers or a VIP lounge seating of seven to eight.
The reasoning behind the latest purchase is that expenses on the old helicopter is working out to Rs 20 crore, which is not feasible. To get a clearance to let it fly, the state had to fit it with the DGCA-mandated Cockpit Voice Flight Data Recorder.
"The cost of the recorder (Rs 3.5 crore) along with the mandatory 10-year examination (Rs 14 crore) and renovation (Rs 2 crore) would have led to an expenditure of Rs 20 crore. As against this, a new copter at Rs 70 crore makes more sense,'' said a cabinet minister requesting anonymity.
The government will auction the old Dauphin. The state has, however, still not managed to sell off one of its old King Air helicopters despite repeated tenders.
The government already owns two aircrafts, a B300 and a US-made, eight-seater Cessna. The Cessna was purchased by then Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh for Rs 52 crore. It was bought because of clashes between Deshmukh and his deputy, Home Minister R.R. Patil, over the use of the aircraft.
The aircrafts are, by protocol, to be used by the governor, chief minister and deputy chief minister. However, any other cabinet minister can use them on demand.
In the past, senior Nationalist Congress Party minister Ajit Pawar and Congress leader Narayan Rane have used the aircraft for official tours.