Just eight ageing helicopters for VVIPs, Air Force warns government

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Air-Force-warns-governmentThe government has just eight choppers to fly VVIPs like the President and the Prime Minister and all are over 30 years old.

The Indian Air Force has sounded alarm bells on the state and number of VVIP helicopters after the government cancelled the 3,600-crore AgustaWestland helicopter deal last month. The eight Mi-8 helicopters for VVIP use will outlive their utility by the end of this year, say sources.

Air Force has reportedly asked the Defence Ministry and the Prime Minister’s office to decide quickly on buying more choppers from Russia that are mostly for rescue and combat missions but can be issued to transport VVIPs.

India had signed a deal for 12 VVIP choppers in 2010, but scrapped it in January following allegations that middlemen based in Europe bribed top Indian officials, including former Air chief SP Tyagi, to push the deal.

Three AgustaWestland helicopters delivered to the air force last year have been mothballed and stored away since the cancellation of the contract does not allow any warranty or product support from the company.

India has already paid Rs. 1,150 crore to AgustaWestland but has recovered about Rs. 250 crore from the bank guarantees that were furnished by the company at the time of signing the contract. The rest of the money is stuck in litigation after the company secured a stay from an Italian court.

Even then it could at best be an ad hoc arrangement since Mi17s do not meet the stringent specifications that exist for VVIP helicopters under which Agusta choppers were bought.