Aizawl, Aug 6 : With a few crashes in Pawan Hans' recent aviation history, the question of public safety looms large on India's lone helicopter company which is all set to resume services in the hilly state of Mizoram from August 14.
Asking the Mizoram government to "look before it leaps", the opposition Zoram Nationalist Party stressed that public safety should be given top priority in view of "serious violations of safety norms" committed by Pawan Hans which had led to a crash in Arunachal Pradesh last year.
"The inquiry committee appointed by the Centre to probe Pawan Hans helicopter crashes in Tawang last year, found serious violation of air safety norms. The Mizoram government should take cautious steps in introducing helicopter services," a ZNP statement said.
Tawang district bordering China witnessed two chopper crashes last year - one on April 19 which claimed 19 lives and the other on April 30 that killed chief minister Dorjee Khandu, along with four others.
The ZNP pointed out other crashes that the state-owned helicopter firm had met with during the past few years.
Another Pawan Hans helicopter met with tragedy on September 22, 2004 in Meghalaya in which 10 people, including Meghalaya's chief minister's father-in-law, died.
A number of people who were interviewed today said they would not feel safe to fly in Pawan Hans helicopter, especially during bad weather.
In a bid to allay public fears, Wing Commander (rtd) Lalzawma, principal consultant to the state's civil aviation wing, said, "Why so concerned about Pawan Hans crashes as other helicopters and planes too have met with air crashes? Accident can happen with anyone. Nothing can be predicted in aviation."
Another official said the government was well aware with air crashes that Pawan Hans helicopters had met with during the last few years.
"However," he added, "the helicopter that will operate in Mizoram is a all-weather twin-engine special chopper, which is of an improved and more powerful chopper using state-of-the-art safety technology. It is considered to be much safer that the helicopters which have crashed."
Dismissing allegations of "undue favoritism" shown to the state-owned helicopter company over other private firms, the principal consultant said, "There is no question of undue favoritism as there was no bidder to the state government's tender other than Pawan Hans. If there had been any other bidder, we would surely have made fair selection."
Despite media reports that a private company King Rotors and Air Charter Pvt Ltd had submitted complaints to the Mizoram government against the unfair manner with which the Pawan Hans had been selected, the official said he was not aware of any complaint. "Pawan Hans is the only company that meets our criteria," he said.