Over half a dozen choppers stationed at Khanapara, Guwahati

Rituraj Borthakur

GUWAHATI, March 11: Even before the election campaigning reaches its crescendo, star campaigners of political parties are increasingly using choppers to crisscross the State and reach out to the voters. Over 70 helicopter flights were recorded in the State in the last ten days, and the trend has gone up sharply in the last three days.

According to details submitted by aviation companies to the Election Commission of India, nearly 50 flights were recorded from March 8 to 10. There were eight flights on March 7, which rose to 12 on March 8, 23 on March 9 and 28 on March 10.

Most of the helicopters flew from the Khanapara ground here, where over half a dozen choppers have been stationed.

At least four types of aircraft are being used by the political parties. One is the helicopter Augusta 109. Its rate is Rs 1.47 lakh per hour. The chopper is a lightweight, twin-engine, eight-seater, multipurpose helicopter built by an Italian manufacturer.

Another is the Eurocopter EC 135, also a twin-engine civil light utility helicopter. Aviation companies are charging Rs 1.35 lakh per hour for this aircraft.

The lowest rate is for Bell 206 helicopter which is a series of two-blade, single- and twin-engine helicopters. Political parties are availing it at Rs 66,000 per hour of flight.

Also being used is the Cessna Citation Excel – an American turbo-fan powered midsize business jet. Its rate is Rs 1.50 lakh per hour.

The aviation companies have to submit the flight plan – in a specified format – to airport or heliport operators a day in advance. A separate report is submitted after the flight, which is then forwarded to the ECI. Police is also maintaining a separate logbook.

More than half a dozen aviation companies have stationed their aircraft in Guwahati since the declaration of the polls dates.

The expenditure limit for each candidate in the State has been fixed at Rs 30.8 lakh. There is an expenditure monitoring cell in each election district. The details of helicopter flights are also maintained by the districts.

Interestingly, expenditure incurred on travel by a ‘star campaigner’ of a party is not added to a candidate’s poll expenditure.

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