Helicopters now launching pads for poll campaigns

In these times of doom and gloom,there’s one industry that is looking up and bright. With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner...

Written by Mandakini Gahlot | New Delhi | Published: March 14, 2009 11:18:30 pm

In these times of doom and gloom,there’s one industry that is looking up and bright. With the Lok Sabha elections around the corner,companies specialising in renting out choppers are struggling to meet the rising demand from political parties. Foremost amongst this group is India’s largest provider of helicopter services,Pawan Hans Helicopters Limited (PHHL). It has already received eight requests each from both the Congress and the BJP. Officials confirmed that the RJD,too,has requested that a chopper be made available.

“We received similar requests during the previous general election and had made six helicopters available for both the Congress and the BJP. Star campaigners such as Sonia Gandhi,L K Advani and Rajnath Singh and Saifuddin Soz also hired choppers,” said an official. “This time,though,the number of requests is unprecedented. The main reason,we think,is the security factor,” he added. PHHL generated “about Rs 3 crores” during the last general election from chopper rentals.

Chief managing director,PHHL,R K Tyagi,however,is quick to point out that in the case of PHHL all requests may not translate into a concrete deal. “We have received a number of enquiries,but since we insist on the entire payment a week in advance,we will only know towards next week how many choppers will be hired.”

PHHL estimates that the total requirement for choppers for election purposes,all over the country,will number at around 90 choppers.

The standard charge for hiring one of PHHL’s 10-seater Dauphins or five-seater Bell choppers is Rs 2 lakh per day. However,that is just for hiring the chopper,for every hour that the chopper spends in the air,the cost is Rs. 1.41 lakh and “overnight” charges stand at Rs 30,000. Other firms,such as Deccan Aviation and Span Air,charge along the same lines.

“We have a fleet of 12 choppers and most of these are already assigned to long-term contracts. Most requests from political parties are within a 40-day period and we will be making almost six-seven choppers available for this purpose. They usually fly about three-four hours in a day and in terms of revenue that is about Rs 4 lakh per day for each chopper,” a senior official at Deccan Aviation explained.

An official at Span Air says, “Almost 95 per cent of helipads in the country at the moment,whether commercial or privately owned,will be pulled into the fray for campaigning purposes. Many individuals give them out to political parties as a favour while there are some that rent them out at pretty much the same cost as us,” the official explained.

Officials are quick to point out the other advantage that comes with riding a chopper to a campaign spot. “They are crowd pullers. Police forces have to be deployed well in advance,for each time a chopper lands people rush towards it. Of course,politicians cut a rather dashing figure when they step off a chopper amidst a crowd of people,” an official said.

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