For Jayanth Poovaiah, executive director of Bangalore-based helicopter charter firm Deccan Aviation Pvt. Ltd, the general election has brought a windfall. Poovaiah’s firm has already leased out around half its fleet of 11 helicopters and turboprop aircraft for the month-long polls.
“There are state elections and then there are big general elections where people lease helicopters to cover vast regions. This one seems to be extra fierce somehow so there is great demand for helicopters,” he said.
For the high-flyers: Sonia Gandhi arriving on a chopper for an election campaign in Allahabad on 19 April. PTI
Helicopters don’t need a runway, and so are a favourite with politicians touring remote areas at election time. Political parties and individuals have leased about 180 helicopters this time. A helicopter charter costs Rs70,000-2.2 lakh, depending on the aircraft chosen.
Political parties choose helicopters according to the seniority of the leaders who will use them. For passengers in the league of L.K. Advani and Sonia Gandhi, a twin-engine helicopter is preferred because it can carry more people—about a dozen as against six by a single-engine helicopter. Twin engines are also safer.
“Statistically it’s not been proved, but yes, in case of loss of one engine, you still have another (to land safely),” added Pooviah.
With an increase in the number of aircraft in the country, parties this time have more choice. The chief promoter and managing director of helicopter charter firm Club One Air, Manav Singh, sees this as a reason for more business in this election. “Many regional parties are chartering more aircraft, which are generally given free of cost by industrialists, which I think is wrong,” said Singh. Singh has chartered four planes to different political parties.
With a fleet of 36, the country’s biggest helicopter company, Pawan Hans Helicopters Ltd, has given out two helicopters to the Congress and one each to the Bharatiya Janata Party, Biju Janata Dal and Nationalist Congress Party, a senior government official familiar with the process said on condition of anonymity. “The helicopters will move from one region to the other according to election phases,” this official said.
When the elections get over on 13 May, some of these aircraft will return to Kedarnath, the Hindu holy town in Uttarakhand, to ferry pilgrims.
Compiled by Mint reporters