Gujarat Assembly Election 2017: All the turbulence over Narendra Modi's seaplane ride is unwarranted

Sometimes there is a need to place things in perspective and Prime Minister Narendra Modi's little joyride in a seaplane is making pointless headlines. Leaders of the free world often sit in fighter aircrafts (two-seat trainers) and go for a spin. These are single-engine aircraft. And I would rather a Quest Kodiak seaplane with Aerocet 6650 floats than a 'flying coffin' of a MiG-21.

Every time our VIPs want to show how close they are to the suffering public – be it a flood, drought or a natural calamity – they swan off in a helicopter. And it is a single engine machine.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd as he boards a seaplane in Gujarat. PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi waves to the crowd as he boards a seaplane in Gujarat. PTI

Little toy planes and light choppers are used with increasing frequency during electioneering. Most of the instructions to the pilots are safety guidelines when ferrying VIPs.

And there is little risk in taking a joyride. Former prime minister Indira Gandhi even went up in a glider from Safdarjang and that does not even have an engine.

However, a Tupolev Tu-124 (twin-jet) was commandeered by former prime minister Morarji Desai and forced to fly from Delhi to Jorhat in Assam, where it ran out of fuel despite the VIP crew having warned the entourage of the risk involved in night flying in the eastern gloom.

They left New Delhi at 5.30 pm, when it is already dark in the east, delayed by late arrivals. Officially, the reports said that it was an engine snag but scuttlebutt in the air force said otherwise. Morarji had a political meeting and reportedly insisted on landing. The crew were forced to crashland in a paddy field and the undercarriage got sucked into the marsh. The fuselage split and the momentum carried the front of the plane forward while the rear stopped. It was 4 November, 1977, and I had the misfortune to cover that assignment.

Five of IAF's elite Communication Squadron died during that crash landing – Wing Commander Clarence D'Lima, Wing Commander Joginder Singh, Squadron Leader Mathew Cyriac, Squadron Leader VVS Sankar and Flight Lieutenant OP Arora.

This is such an unremembered sacrifice and so damned unnecessary that the safety of the aircraft is secondary to the arrogance and conceit of the VIPs and even today, some 40 years later, the rage does not subside.

So, back to the Modi flight. If these aircraft are going to be pressed into service to fly people to Sabarmati as a tourist service and facilities like the single-engine choppers that take people up to Vaishno Devi, what better publicity for the safety of the plane than a prime minister taking the first trip.

Spicejet has plans to buy 100 of these, at a cost $3 million each for its amphibious version (floats worth $400,000) to implement Modi's 'everyone can fly' scheme. One more good reason for Modi to advertise his ideas.

Some people have submitted an RTI to the PMO demanding to know why the prime minister risked his life and broke the rules. Really? What was the risk factor in going up in one of the 220 Kodaks flying the skies when only four have crashed since 2008? Is it even breaking the rules?

In 2014, the DGCA had stated:

VIPs, SPG protected persons and other important persons of eminence in public life use air travel frequently for electioneering and other purposes in small aircraft/helicopters of private/non-scheduled operators. Further, election flying is a highly demanding exercise in terms of skill levels, professionalism and tact.

Long flying hours, a large number of take-offs and landings, weather changes, lack of proper rest and recuperation arrangements, hurriedly prepared helipads, frequent changes in itinerary, time management, highly stressed security arrangement, crowd control, congested airspace, lack of adequate communication and airspace management, commercial interest and language barrier are some of the challenges of election flying.

Analysis of earlier accidents/incidents associated with small aircraft/helicopter operations from airstrips/temporary helipads and past experience of election flying by the operators has revealed that laid down instructions were violated time and again and safety was jeopardised.

Though a number of guidelines and circulars have been issued in the past for ensuring the safety of air operations by small aircraft and helicopters, the instructions are thus reiterated so that the same are followed meticulously for ensuring safe operation of small aircraft/helicopters.

Permission granted. Be safe.

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Updated Date: Dec 14, 2017 12:58:22 IST

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