IT has been six months since a helicopter on a joyride over Mumbai’s suburbs crashed in Aarey Colony in Powai. Operators have since noticed a new level of caution and diligent enquiries by prospective customers before they book a ride. While a fresh wave of questions is coming now from customers ever since the Maharashtra chief minister’s chopper crash-landed in Latur district last week, operators of chopper services in the city say last year’s accident made questions on the experience of the crew, and the model and make of the chopper a routine for flyers.
In December 2016, a Robinson R44 chopper, operated by Aman Aviations, crashed, claiming three lives. While an inquiry by the Aviation Accidents Investigation Bureau (AAIB) was initiated, the report that will ascertain the exact cause of the accident is yet to be submitted. Operators in the joyride business and those renting choppers for commercial or personal use claim their customers have begun to show, since the accident, a keen interest in technical details of the ride.
“We have changed our style of ride-briefing to be given to the clients of choppers to include details of maintenance and safety of the chopper body. After the accident, customers want to be aware of how well-maintained the chopper is,” said Mandar Bharde, CEO, MAB Aviations, which rents fixed-wing planes for commercial or medical uses.
The joyride operations over Mumbai, which were suspended immediately after the accident, resumed within a week, by January. Seeing as many as 100 rides being booked every month, Aman Aviations says joyride customers now specifically recall that incident. “Seventy per cent of joyride users in the last couple of months have been aware of the accident that happened. During most of our rides, they pose questions regarding who the pilot was, why it happened and their personal memories attached to the accident,” said Rajendra Johri, CMD, Aman Aviations. The company is using another Robinson chopper of the same model.
To ensure safety, equipment to record the pilot’s communication with the Air Traffic Control (ATC) office and flight data records may soon be a reality on all helicopters, not only those of a certain size. “Under the new guidelines published in 2015, we have asked for image-recording device to be installed in each chopper irrespective of the size. This will help with better maintenance of the body and store information in case of crisis. Those are supposed to be in place by 2018,” said a senior DGCA official.