Lucknow, March 14: The battle for the 80 Lok Sabha seats in Uttar Pradesh is set to be fought in the skies — or so it seems. All major political parties have lined up a string of helicopters and small aircraft to criss-cross the sprawling state. Uttar Pradesh covers an area of 240,928 sq km, almost touching the size of Britain. It touches New Delhi on its west and Bihar on the east. The state also borders Nepal.
Aviation sources say more than 40 choppers and small flying machines have been requisitioned by political parties to ferry their stalwarts and celebrity campaigners. The first fleet, requisitioned by the ruling Samajwadi Party, has already landed in Lucknow, an official told IANS.
The fleet of four ‘small birds’, belonging to the Club One Air, touched down at the tarmac Wednesday evening and were received by local Samajwadi Party leaders, many of whom have been given the task of fixing air miles for their leaders and streamlining their schedules for campaign rallies.
A small ‘air office’ of the party has been set up at the airport. The Club One Air fleet for the Samajwadi Party will fly Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav, his father and party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav along with senior leaders like Shivpal Singh Yadav, Ram Gopal Yadav, Dharmendra Yadav, Mohd Azam Khan, Dimple Yadav and some celebs.
The fleet includes eight-seater Falcon 2000 and Gulfstream 2000, a business jet customized for VIP travellers, which also has a four-seater conference setup. While Akhilesh Yadav flew in state-owned choppers and aircraft earlier, he is no longer entitled to that with the model code of conduct being in force.
The helicopters for the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) are being hired by the party head office in New Delhi where vice president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi is in charge. Informed sources say the BJP fleet of aircraft will transport prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi, Rajnath Singh, L.K. Advani, Sushma Swaraj, Arun Jaitley, Vinod Khanna, Hema Malini and many others.
Aviation companies having private charters services like Air King, Star Aviation, AR Airways and Pawan Hans are being roped in for the election campaign. Separate hangar space, parking bays and maintenance alleys have been established at the airport here.
“Though we don’t have final schedules, we have begun arrangements for hangar space so that normal flights are not disturbed,” said S.C. Hota, director of the airport. Conservative estimates peg the total cost of the ‘sky wars’ at around Rs.70 crore in Uttar Pradesh, with the maximum spent by the BJP.
Informed sources say the BJP has hired 10 choppers and charter planes while the Congress is requisitioning seven aircraft. The Samajwadi Party has hired six aircraft, the Bahujan samaj Party (BSP) three and the Rashtriya Lok Dal (RLD) getting two choppers.