THE GOVERNMENT is in a desperate dilemma on how to dispose of the 19 Westland-30 helicopters which have been gathering dust after they were declared unsafe by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation in 1991 following two crashes.
Last week, Air Commodore C M Singla, Chairman and Managing Director, Pawan Hans Limited, received an unusual letter from the Civil Aviation Ministry instructing him to devise “alternate means” to get rid of the West-land-30 helicopters
The letter to Air Comdr Singla follows intense discussion at a Cabinet-level meeting last month, which among other things discussed the failure of Pawan Hans Ltd to find any buyer for even one Westland helicopter. The international tender, which Pawan Hans floated in March last year, was extended thrice. All that Pawan Hans managed to sell were 12 tender forms. Not even one concrete offer was made by anyone.
Meanwhile, Pawan Hans has been incurring Rs 16 crore annual expenditure on their upkeep. So far, Pawan Hans has spent Rs 50 crore after the West lands were grounded. Being technologically faulty, nobody in the international civil aviation circle wants to touch the helicopters. The manufacturers of Westland have since long discontinued production of Westland-30s. In fact, Pawan Hans has claimed Rs 55 crore from Westland Helicopters Ltd for damages incurred because of poor serviceability and product support.
The letter from the Civil Aviation Ministry does not elaborate on the “alternate means” to sell the helicopters. Air Comdr Singla told The Pioneer: “The fact that we failed to attract even a single buyer in spite of floating international tender last year should reflect on the kind of credibility that Westland helicopters have. Frankly, it will be a waste of money even if I place international advertisements again. Anyway, I will be calling the Steering Committee comprising officials of the Finance, External and Civil Aviation ministers. The Government had set-up the committee to oversee the sale of Westland helicopters.”
It is another matter that the same committee had suggested floating tender last year to sell the Westland helicopters. After miserably failing to do so, the Steering Committee then approached the Defence Ministry to get rid of the helicopters. The Defence Ministry expressed its inability to sell the helicopters. They reasoned that they too would have to resort to international tenders to sell the West-land-30 and as Pawan Hans had failed at that, it made little sense getting involved in it.
Surprisingly in spite of problem on Westland front and union trouble, Pawan Hans made Rs 26 crore profit in 1992-93 taking into consideration the Rs 16.5 crore loss it incurred on Westland.
However, as of now getting rid of Westland as per Cabinet instructions is proving to be a major headache for Air Comdr Singla. “I cannot even sell the helicopters as junk because they are not made of iron. They are made of fine alloys”.
So does that mean that Pawan Hans will never see the last of Westland-30s?. “Not until I throw them in the ocean. May be the alternative is to donate them to a museum. Isn’t that a good idea?” he said jokingly.
By Ketan Tanna