M A I N   N E W S

Punjab bought copter to save money on hired one, ends up using both
Jangveer Singh/TNS

Chandigarh, June 7
The cash-starved Punjab Government, which spent Rs 38 crore buying a helicopter to cut down on the expense of hiring one, has instead been using both the hired machine as well as the new one for over a month to ferry the Chief Minister, his deputy and even a few ministers across the state and even to and from Delhi.

The state government purchased a twin engine, five-seater Bell 429 helicopter with VIP configuration for Rs 38 crore some months back. At the time of purchase, it had said that using a hired copter cost Rs 1.40 lakh an hour and the state would save money in the long run by owning one.

The new copter started operations with the state government on May 3. Rather than letting go of the EC 135 helicopter on hire, both copters began to be used to optimum capacity. The hired helicopter flew over 35 hours in May, while the new one clocked 38 hours.

Despite two helicopters being in service, demand never ceased for a single day, sources said. This was because both machines were commandeered by CM Parkash Singh Badal and Deputy CM Sukhbir Singh Badal separately and even used intermittently to ferry ministers for meetings in the state capital.

When asked, a government official said the hired helicopter was today sent back to Global Vectra, the private company from where it was hired.

While this decision has apparently been taken under media pressure, officials said the state Civil Aviation Department would have to hire helicopters and even fixed wing planes in the future as well. At times, two to three VIPs asked for helicopters at the same time, department sources said. Sometimes, the Deputy CM decides to fly to Delhi in the evening, necessitating hiring of a fixed wing plane.

Justifying running two helicopters at the simultaneously for over one month, Civil Aviation Department sources said the old machine was used as a standby. But they offered no explanation as to why the standby was also used to its full capacity, resulting in a bill of Rs 50 lakh to the state exchequer.

The government has hired three pilots and technical staff to operate the new helicopter. However, only one of the pilots has the requisite 75 flying hours needed on the same machine to fly the VIP copter. The remaining pilots are training to meet this stipulated requirement.

The government has been spending around Rs 15 crore a year to hire helicopters and fixed wing aircraft for use by the CM and his deputy. The state is projecting a saving of 30 to 40 per cent by purchasing a copter. However, that will be possible only if the government sticks to using one machine. Last month’s experience shows this is very unlikely.

The state earlier owned a fixed wing aircraft, which crashed in 2008 while on a test run, killing both pilots. The state has been hiring private helicopters for years, first from Pawan Hans and recently from Global Vectra. 

Rs 50-lakh flight of fancy

* The state government purchased a twin engine, five-seater Bell 429 helicopter with VIP configuration for `38 crore, which began operations on May 3

* Instead of letting go off the hired EC 135 helicopter, both copters were pressed into service and used to optimum capacity

* This cost the state exchequer `50 lakh till the machine on hire was sent back to Delhi on Friday





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