NEW DELHI: Elections are in the air. So are politicians. Conservative estimates put the amount spent by political parties on flying star campaigners across Punjab, Uttarakhand and Uttar Pradesh at Rs 30 crore. The Congress, of course, takes the big pie in the sky, accounting for nearly 60 per cent of this; the BJP is second with about 10 per cent.
Almost 30 single-engine and twin-engine helicopters were hired by political parties about two months ago. Charter services are great business during elections as the parties have realised the captive power of a helicopter in attracting audiences at remote towns and villages. The Congress has reportedly booked eight helicopters, the BJP seven, Mayawati’s Bahujan Samaj Party four, and Samajwadi Party two.
The modus operandi of the helicopter rental business is interesting as the deals take place in various layers with huge cuts for all involved. All parties have a member who handles the portfolio of “aviation manager”. Once elections are announced, this key person sets out to book helicopters. An “aviation manager” may be a party worker or even a pilot who has flown frequently with the party’s top brass, and thus brings camaraderie too.
These managers work through a tout who in turn contacts the various companies in possession of these helicopters for rental. Most of these companies have two or three machines and are based at Delhi Airport. Touts round them up and devise larger packages. Some of the better known ones are SRC Aviation, Summit Aviation, Deccan Charters, Span Air, Aerotech Aviation, and Imperial Air. “The average rate of flying for an hour on a single-engine craft is Rs 70,000 and Rs 1.2 lakh on a twin-engine machine. Bigger helicopters may cost up to Rs 3.5 lakh per hour,” an aviation insider said.