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Did PM Modi's Sabarmati flight violate safety norms?

Questions raised as PM Narendra Modi travelled in single-engine plane flown by foreign pilots; the Gujarat government has denied charges

Aneesh Phadnis & Vinay Umaraji  |  Mumbai, Ahmedabad 

Gujarat Assembly Elections 2017
PM Narendra Modi waves as he boards a seaplane on the Sabarmati river front in Ahmedabad. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister brought amphibian planes into greater prominence as he flew in a 10-seater Kodiak aircraft to address an election rally in Gujarat on Tuesday. But the prime minister's aerial ride to bypass the lack of police permission for a road show is now generating a controversy. Questions are being raised on social media about possible violations of safety and security norms in this 20-minute VVIP flight. ALSO READ: Gujarat polls: Modi ditches road, lands via seaplane; Top 10 developments “How is it that the security guidelines were relaxed for this flight? No Z+ protectee is allowed to fly in a single-engine aircraft, much less the PM of our country. Single engine plane. Foreign pilots. Is there any security guideline that will not be thrown out today,” former Jammu & Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted. While DGCA and civil aviation ministry did not comment, a senior Gujarat Government official denied there was any violation. "All necessary approvals from DGCA were taken and due diligence was followed. There has been no security breach," the official told Business Standard. ALSO READ: Gujarat elections: Modi a good passenger, says seaplane pilot after landing Denied permission to hold public gatherings in Ahmedabad due to security threat, PM Modi changed plans to holding a road show from to Ambaji temple. Modi flew in the amphibious aircraft from Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad to Dhorai Dam and back on Tuesday to a welcome reception by crowds on both sides of the river bank. Kodiak is a single-engine aircraft manufactured by Japanese company Setouchi Holdings and there are over 200 planes of this type around the world. On Saturday, the aircraft did a demonstration flight in Mumbai. Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) and Home Ministry have guidelines with respect to type of planes and procedures to be followed for VVIP flights.

A twin-engine aircraft has the capability to sustain flight in case of single engine failure. Put simply it means the pilot can take off or land even if one of the two engine fails. ALSO READ: Hawa Hawai, says Cong on Modi's seaplane ride; Rahul dubs it as distraction The DGCA issued an air safety circular in 1981 on the use of private and state government aircraft for carriage of chief ministers and other high dignitaries. The circular says that a twin-engined aircraft with good operational capability, reliability and easy maintainability characteristics “should be used” (for VVIP flights). Similarly, a circular issued in 2014 lays down operational, air safety and airworthiness requirements for such VVIP operations. However, an aviation source said that these circulars are in nature of advisories though in 2014 DGCA said it will take action against pilots, engineers and operators for non-compliance. Moreover, there are no specific regulations with respect to amphibian planes and the DGCA may have waived certain existing requirements for Tuesday's flight. A few years ago, the DGCA had introduced draft regulations on the use of private or state government aircraft for carriage of VVIPs. The draft said twin-engine planes or helicopters “shall be used” for such flights. These regulations would have been binding on all operators but the DGCA did not finalise the regulations. Attempts were once again made to frame regulations and remove the contradictions in rules after a helicopter crash in 2011 which killed Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu. The Pawan Hans helicopter carrying the chief minister had a single engine. The then Director General of Civil Aviation E K Bharat Bhushan had asked former Joint Director General A K Chopra to study the incidents involving single-engine helicopters and list measures to prevent accidents but that effort too did not result in tangible action.

First Published: Tue, December 12 2017. 19:20 IST