Why Baijayant Panda will fly off scot-free?


By Anil Dhir

Bhubaneswar: Baijayant Panda has written to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik to release his copters so that they can be used for relief work in cyclone and flood-ravaged areas in the State and offered to give them free of cost. It will be interesting to know how many times IMFA Aviation has given their choppers gratis to the Government, earlier.

Panda, while appearing before the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) in connection with the case of flying his helicopter over the no-flying zone at Chilika Lake, strongly refuted the charges labeled against him and called it a conspiracy to stop him from meeting people in the state. He had told reporters that he had furnished all details and countered all “baseless allegations” against him by Odisha Police.

In the FIR registered against him at the Puri Marine Police Station, the Chilka Development Authority has charged him for flying dangerously low and attempting to land over the Chilka Lake, which according to them is a no-flying eco-sensitive zone.

After deposing at the DGCA, Panda had said “I was asked to submit documents related to flying timing and other details. I have submitted all the documents to the DGCA. Before me, many people have flown in that area but no action was taken against them. The complaint against me was changed five times and now I’m hoping that the DGCA will do justice to me.”

The knee jerk manner, in which the Police seized his choppers and sealed the hangar where the R-44 helicopter, along with two other helicopters was parked, will be a damp squib. The Police was under the impression that the Flight Data Recorder (FDR) and the Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR) will hold evidence in the case against him, hence not having the expertise of removing them; they sealed the hangar where the helicopter along with two other was parked. Incidentally, FDR’s and CVR’s can only be decoded by HAL at Bangalore or the National Transportation and Safety Board in the USA.

Little do they know that the Robinson R44 Raven II helicopter is in all probability not fitted with a FDR or the CVR.  Rule  57  of the Aircraft Rules, 1937  requires  that  every aircraft  shall be fitted and equipped with instruments  and equipment and lays  down  the requirements for fitment of Cockpit Voice Recorder (CVR)  on aircraft  registered  in  India.

Rule 3.2  which is specific for  Helicopters states that  no  person  shall  operate  a  helicopter  of  maximum certified take-off mass of over 7,000 kgs  unless it  is fitted with an approved CVR and a Flight Data Recorder. Baijayant’s Helicopter has a takeoff weight of   only 1134 kgs; hence he is not required to fit the FDR and CVR. He knows this, so that is why he is so cocksure.

However the Chopper has a standard GPS system. The  Garmin GDU 700L TXI  GPS fitted in VT-BDP  has a  “save flight data” function,  from which parameters like time, position, altitude, direction, and speed changes for the occurrence flight  will be available. If this function has not been disabled by Baijayant, then the record of the last ten flights will be there and all the parameters mentioned above can be determined. The data can easily be downloaded by an interface cable onto a laptop and the truth of his low flight proved.

Interestingly, Baijayant has had a free run in his heli-hopping jaunts all over the State. His being a Parliamentarian of the ruling party gave him a free reign and the flight plans he filed were cleared pronto. While it is true that exact no-flying zones have not been designated, the airspace over Odisha, with the numerous sensitive defence installations is certainly not one in which joy rides should be permitted, certainly not for ferrying dimwits and buffoons who make sacrilegious and uncouth remarks about the state and its people. Baijayant should have known better.

In September 2009, after the death of YSR Reddy in a chopper crash, Panda had written an article in Indian Express wherein he had said: “I am a licensed pilot in three countries, and find India’s regulations most cumbersome. When laws and rules become impractical, the inevitable consequence will be ever more violations. At this time of tragedy, let us keep this in mind: India deserves a complete overhaul of the aviation act, one that is in line with worldwide best practices.” The Indian Aviation Act does need an overhaul, especially in the matter of VIP flights.

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