Uttar Pradesh chopper fleet best, says man who flies Mayawati

By Sharat Pradhan, IANS,

Lucknow : The man who often flies Chief Minister Mayawati and is a top bureaucrat in Uttar Pradesh says the state has the best fleet of choppers and the most experienced pilots in the country.

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Cabinet Secretary Shashank Shekhar Singh, 59, a pilot himself, said this following a close review of the state civil aviation department’s preparedness to deal with emergencies like the one encountered by Andhra Pradesh chief minister Y.S. Rajasekhara Reddy, who was killed in a Bell helicopter crash last week.

“I can proudly proclaim that Uttar Pradesh has the best fleet of aircraft as compared to any other state in the country,” says Singh, who is credited with grooming the state civil aviation department of which he is a former director and is popularly called “captain”.

The Uttar Pradesh government has two helicopters and three planes, and has 10 pilots.

“I can vouch for any of our 10 pilots to fly in the most adverse situations; and our helicopter pilots have sufficient experience in night-flying that enables them to conveniently manoeuvre their aircraft under heavy rain and thick cloud conditions like the one possibly encountered in Andhra,” Singh told IANS in an interview.

Uttar Pradesh too has helicopters manufactured by Bell. But the state has been particular in ensuring timely replacement of the old machines, claims Singh.

“We go strictly by the book and whenever the slightest doubts were raised about airworthiness of an aircraft, we have preferred to go for its replacement as we cannot afford to risk the lives of VVIPs for whom they are meant,” Singh points out.

Singh, who has flown several chief ministers since the time he switched over from being a pilot in the Indian Army to the state government as civil aviation director way back in 1980, has encountered a number of such tricky situations.

But he always managed to use his skills and experience while flying former Uttar Pradesh chief ministers like Vishwanath Pratap Singh, Narayan Dutt Tiwari, Veer Bahadur Singh and Mulayam Singh Yadav during very tricky situations.

He is a rare pilot to have acquired the necessary licence for helicopters and fixed wing aircrafts some 25 years ago that gave him the desired expertise to handle aircraft in the most hostile weather conditions.

But he says it is not just that. “I have always kept myself up-to-date with the latest technologies and never closed my doors to acquiring new techniques,” Singh told IANS.

More importantly, he also made it a point to disseminate his knowledge among his junior colleagues.

Recalling a situation similar to what YSR’s chopper may have encountered, Singh said: “This was sometime in 1985, when I had to fly the then chief minister (and present Andhra Pradesh Governor) N.D. Tiwari from Joshimath to Pantnagar.

“We had barely taken off, when a thick blanket of fog and heavy clouds engulfed the area, making visibility almost zero.”

“There was no time for a second thought, so the first thing I did instinctively was to pull the chopper to the maximum height that it could go; and once I was above the clouds, I fixed the navigation system towards Pantnagar and started moving in that direction without any ground or mountain in sight.”

Singh said: “The chief minister looked a bit tense for a while but he showed confidence in me and told me to move on. In about 45 minutes, we were hovering well above Pantnagar, but I lowered the aircraft only after ensuring that we were away from the hills.”

According to Singh: “More often than not, under heavy rains and cloudy conditions, helicopter pilots have a tendency to go lower than the clouds in order to keep the horizon and ground in view. But that is what needs to be avoided.

“It is always wiser to move above the clouds and use the sophisticated gadgetary with which all modern helicopters are equipped.”

(Sharat Pradhan can be contacted at [email protected])