Acting for the first time on an election-related complaint, the DGCA has suspended licences of two pilots for making an unauthorized sortie in poll-bound Nagaland early this year which was intercepted by an EC team for carrying Rs one crore cash.
The Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) has taken action on the complaint of "election expenditure monitoring" cell of EC after its surveillance team on February 16 seized the cash from a helicopter allegedly being used by a candidate of Nagaland Peoples Front (NPF) after it landed at Assam Rifles helipad in Longleng district of the state.
The cash is still in possession of the commission and the political party has recently approached a competent court to get the money released.
The DGCA has found the two pilots, captain K N G Nair and captain Sunil Kumar (co-pilot), in violation of air safety norms and for not possessing mandtatory and valid air defence clearance (ADC) to fly on Phomching-Longleng-Phomching route on the said date and also failing to report the incident to the DGCA or the local air traffic control (ATC).
"In exercise of the powers delegated under clause (b) of sub-rule (3) of Rule 19 of the Aircraft Rules, 1937, read with ministry of tourism and civil aviation notification no SO. 727 (E) of October 1994 hereby suspends privileges of pilot licences held by Capt K N G Nair and Capt Sunil Kumar for the period of three months from July 27, 2013," the DGCA said in its order.
The Bell 412 helicopter VT-AZB operated by Global Vectra Helicorp Ltd Mumbai was on a wet lease contract with charterer King Rotors and Air Charter Private Ltd for a period of one month from February 2013.
The helicopter was further hired by NPF for campaign purposes and on the day the chopper was intercepted and the cash was seized, party candidate Nyemli Phom (contesting polls from a constituency in Longleng district) was onboard.
The investigation report found that the sortie between Phomching-Longleng-Phomching was allegedly made "without any approved flight plan and air defence clearance" which is a potent invite for an air disaster and risk to the lives of VIPs and others onboard.
The EC deployed team smelt a rat in this instance, thinking this sortie to have been purposefully made to ferry illegal cash, and hence not only intercepted the chopper at the Assam Rifles base but also shot off a letter to DGCA to probe the flight operations on this specific sortie, the report said.
The probe report further indicts the pilots and sortie as it said that "the pilot also did not report the matter after conclusion of unauthorised/unapproved flight to Dimapur/Jorhat ATC nor to DGCA regional office or the regional controller of air safety in Kolkata."
Polls for the 60 assembly seats in Nagaland were held on February 23.
The EC has appointed a team of "expenditure observers" in the state to keep a check on illegal money and other inducements being used for voters at the hustings.
The EC had asked the DGCA to probe the doubtful sortie in a letter written to air safety regulator on February 22, less than a week after the incident happened.