The Bihar chief minister and governor will soon be able to fly in a twin-engine jet that can cover the around-1000km distance between Patna and New Delhi in an hour and 10 minutes.
At present, the lone aircraft for VIP movement with the state civil aviation directorate is a King Air C-90 A/B, which runs on turbine engine and normally takes two-and-a-half hours (of flying time) to reach Delhi from Patna.
A state-owned 30-year-old helicopter Dauphin SA 365N is undergoing maintenance and is unfit for flying VIPs.
But the Bihar government is now all set to hire a twin-engine jet aircraft and a twin-engine helicopter to fly its VVIPs.
Senior officials in the state civil aviation directorate said the government had initially planned to purchase a brand new aircraft and a chopper but it was later decided to, instead, hire the two flying machines.
"A brand new twin-engine jet aircraft costs around Rs 150-200 crore and a twin-engine helicopter around Rs 90-100 crore," said Deepak Kumar Singh, director (operation)-cum-chief pilot, directorate of civil aviation. "The state government would have had to spend Rs 250 crore to purchase both the aircraft and helicopter. Simply hiring a new jet aircraft costs around Rs 1 crore and a twin-engine helicopter around Rs 60-65 lakh. So the state finance commissioner decided to just hire the aircraft and chopper."
The state government had purchased the Dauphin SA 365N in 1989 for Rs 3.5 crore. Two choppers were imported from France at a total cost of Rs 7 crores. One of the choppers crashed at Munger in February 2004.
With the chopper grounded for maintenance work, the state government has hired an Augusta 109 chopper to flying VIPS.
"The state-owned copter is 30 years old. It has reached its five-yearly re-inspection deadline. Accordingly, we have started repair work. Spare parts have been procured from France. Since inspection takes 3-4 months, we have hired an Augusta 109 for the time being," Captain Deepak said.
The average shelf life of copters varies from 25 to 30 years. According to Director General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) guidelines, sources said, it is inadvisable to fly a Dauphin SA 365N if it is over 20 years.
The state government also owns three small aircraft - King Air C-90 A/B, King Air C-90 and Dutches 76. While the first two aircraft are 7+2 and 6+2 seaters respectively, the third one is a 2+2 seater. However, only the King Air C-90 A/B is functional at present.
"The King Air C-90 A/B was purchased in 2006 and has a shelf life of 35 years. However, it has only five passenger seats and technical engineers occupy two seats during long sorties. Thus, we face problems in flying support staff and the chief minister and governor's security personnel during long journeys. Accordingly, it has been decided to hire 12 (passenger) +2 (pilots)-seater aircraft," Captain Deepak said.
As things stand now, but for a few places like Gaya, Purnea and Bhagalpur, the VIPs have to take a chopper, as most places in Bihar do not have required infrastructure for the state's only operational aircraft to land.