The Bihar government has decided to buy a new helicopter to replace its 23-year-old one, alarmed by Wednesday’s crash that killed Andhra Pradesh chief minister YSR Reddy and four others.
Bihar has one Dauphin 365-M chopper (VT-ENU) surviving and in a serviceable condition. The other VT-ENV was declared sick by French experts who said it was beyond economic repair after the chopper suffered an accident at Munger in early 2000.
Besides the chief minister, the governor, ministers and VIPs use the chopper to move within the state.
Cabinet secretary Girish Shankar, also the civil aviation secretary, confirmed that his department would soon buy a new helicopter and will float a global tender for it.
The mandarin’s decision is allegedly guided by considerations that Nitish Kumar, like late YS Reddy, is a “high flying” chief minister who uses the air route frequently. Nitish used the chopper during JD(U) vikas yatra and for supervising development schemes.
Officials, however, believe that the present VT-ENU is fit to fly. “The chopper has the required air-worthiness certificate from the director-general of civil aviation,” said Girish Shankar, adding: “It’s engine, head and tail are closely examined by experts after it flies for 50 and 100 hours.”
Fact remains that the government’s fleet, constituting of a helicopter and three fixed-wing planes, is devoid of emergency locator transmitter (ELT) registered with the Indian Space Research Organisation (Isro).
Though the ELT registration is not mandatory according to civil aviation stipulation, experts feel that it is desirable, as it enables Isro to locate aircraft through satellite links in event of a crash. Incidentally, except one fixed-wing aircraft — King Air C-90A/B — the other two planes in use are also over two-decade old.
Sources in the civil aviation department revealed that the VT-ENV was accorded air-worthiness certificate by the director-general’s office for six months. After that, the office usually examines conditions and issues (or not) another certificate for the next six months. Helicopters below 25 years of age are required to secure air-worthiness certificates on yearly basis.
Incidentally, former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi got the Dauphin choppers for Bihar, besides Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh.
In 1986, the choppers were rejected by the Indian Air Force for VIP flying. The late Prime Minister funded the states to buy the Dauphins.
While UP, MP and Gujarat have phased out the choppers, Bihar still continues to fly one of them.