IAF will not fly tainted Agusta VVIP choppers

Defence Ministry looks for options to sell them

IAF will not fly tainted Agusta VVIP choppers

The Indian Air Force will not fly the three scam-tainted AW-101 VVIP helicopters that have been with it since December 2012.

The defence ministry has decided that the Air Force would not use these choppers for VVIP flights. Instead, Defence Minister Arun Jaitley may look for legally valid options to sell these copters to state governments or private companies, sources told Deccan Herald.

The three choppers arrived in Delhi almost a year-and-a-half ago, but they were never formally inducted in the service because within months, the Rs 3,727 crore  deal emerged as a huge scam with allegations of kickbacks flying thick against several individuals, including a former IAF chief.

Since 2012, the IAF stations in Hindon and Palam were flying these machines on short trips to keep them operational. But with no supply of spares because of the scam, investigation and court case, it is becoming increasingly expensive to fly them.“The only decision on the Agusta VVIP choppers is that the IAF will not fly them.

The ministry is exploring various options on what can be done with them,” said an official. One of the proposals on the table is to sell them off to states or other agencies, including private companies. Jaitley, however, has not taken any decision yet.

The IAF is working on a plan to find a new fleet of VVIP helicopters to replace the ageing Mi-8 helicopters, which have completed their technical lives. Bereft of an alternative, the service continues to fly them for ferrying VVIPs.

In 2010, India signed the agreement with arms major AgustaWestland for the supply of 12 AW 101 choppers. Following the controversy, the defence ministry asked the CBI to probe the scam-tainted deal and proceeded to encash the bank guarantees to recover part of the advance payment made to the company.

While the Agusta helicopters were custom-made for VVIP flights, IAF’s most modern medium lift helicopter — Mi-17 V5, is not configured for them. The V5 helicopters neither have the comfort level required by VVIP passengers, nor are they equipped with extra security measures and communication lines.

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