In Mumbai, the idea of air ambulances doesn`t fly

Aircraft operators in Mumbai prefer to deal with corporates and the film fraternity.

Mumbai: Aircraft operators in Mumbai prefer to deal with corporates and the film fraternity.

High operations cost and a greater demand for chartered planes by corporate houses and the film fraternity has kept aircraft operators from flying air ambulances in Mumbai. From four operators, Deccan Charters Limited, Religare Aviation Limited, Bafna and Taurian Iron and Steal Company Private Limited, who flew to and fro Mumbai till a few months ago, Mumbai is now left with just one operator and one aircraft to fly as an air ambulance.

With Deccan and Bafna grounded and Religare shifting base to Delhi, Taurian remains the only operator to fly ambulances in Mumbai. On the contrary, Delhi has five operators and 12 aircraft to fly as air ambulance.

The only ambulance that operates from Mumbai receives six calls every day on an average. “There are times when the aircraft is not available,” said Brijesh, pilot employed by Taurian Iron and Steal Company Private Limited. Mumbai receives calls from Central and South India. Most patients using these ambulances visit the Lilavati Hospital, Bombay Hospital or Kokilaben Hospital.

Operating out of Mumbai costs more than from Delhi. While landing charges for a charter in Delhi are Rs12,000-15,000, in Mumbai, they vary from Rs37,000 to Rs43,000. This fee was Rs1,000 till three to four months ago. Also, in Mumbai, if a parked aircraft fails to leave the airport in 48 hours, a penalty of Rs29,000 is charged per day. However, that is not the case in Delhi. “Delhi airport has no penalty charges,” Brijesh said.

Religare Aviaition Limited says the price difference cannot be ignored. “Besides, we have more demand in Delhi and so, we have shifted base,” said Saurabh Bhat, associate business developer for Eximius Business Services. The company that handles marketing operations for Religare.

To avoid parking charges at Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA), the charters are parked at the Juhu Airport. “Ambulances are emergency services. If one is parked in Juhu and has to carry a patient, the aircraft has to be diverted to the main airport. Seeking permission and the time schedule takes a lot of time and defeats the purpose of an ambulance,” said Dr Sanjay Mishra of Air Rescuers, an air ambulance company.

Owing to the heavy air traffic during mornings and evenings, CSIA does not allow non-scheduled operators, including air ambulances, to operate from the terminals.

“They are not permitted to fly to and fro the airport from 8am to 10am and 5.30pm to 7.30pm. This defies the purpose of having an ambulance and discourages operators,” said Dr Navneet Singh of EM SOS ambulance services.

“We do not have any guidelines to give priority to ambulances. However, on special occasions, if the pilot seeks permission, depending on the space available, we sometimes give priority to ambulances,” said G Dasgupta, GM, air traffic control.

For private operators in Mumbai, chartered flying is a profitable compared to an air ambulance. Mumbai receives ample bookings from the corporate and Bollywood fraternity.

“We are generally booked in advance for corporates and unlike flying an ambulance, no specific clearances are required. It means more business and easy billings for us,” said a private operator.

The operators also feel that when corporate houses and Bollywood celebrities book aircraft, the booking is for a longer period and payment comes without much effort or delay. “An ambulance comes with a lot of uncertainty for the operator whereas a charter is a safer bet any day,” the operator said.

DNA/Rohinee Singh

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