BENGALURU: At 9.30am Sunday, Chief Minister BS Yediyurappa set off on a 290-km drive to Belludi, close to Harihar, and reached after three hours. He participated in the anniversary celebrations of a mutt, and began his return journey to Bengaluru around 1.30pm, reaching after 4.30pm. A 600-km journey by road can be exhausting, but CM Yediyurappa was forced to undertake the trip as his logistics team couldn’t find a chopper for hire, and gave up after a hard week-long search.
With elections in a number of states, choppers are hard to come by, having been booked months in advance. For the record, Karnataka does not own an official helicopter.CEO of Agni Aviation Capt Arvind Sharma said, “Since it’s election time in West Bengal, Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Assam and Puducherry, besides bypolls in Karnataka and elsewhere, choppers are in high demand, and most of them have been booked by political parties.’’
There are around 650 registered aircraft in the entire country, and about 100 of them are helicopters. Experts say the Chief Minister would mandatorily have to fly a twin-engine helicopter. They may be fewer than 25 twin-engine choppers for hire, and none are available because of elections. Official records reveal that Chief Minister R Gundu Rao used to fly a Chetak helicopter, and during CM SM Krishna’s time, a twin-engine Dauphin helicopter was used. Both are no longer in use. The Dauphin was damaged in an accident in HAL airport in the early 2000s, and for 17-18 years, successive governments have had to depend on hired choppers to fly VVIPs.
A source in the CM’s office said the Dharam Singh government had attempted to acquire its own choppers, but gave up the idea due to the prohibitive cost, besides maintenance and hiring a pilot. Sources said that after Bertie Vaz, the last pilot, retired, a few pilots who were interviewed had demanded prohibitive salaries, higher even than the chief secretary’s pay. As one chopper pilot said, “It’s easier to hire an aircraft rather than own one. Though there are many advantages, most users prefer to hire choppers.”