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Dhruv, a saviour for thousands of families in Sunabeda

By Dr Anantha Krishnan M

The Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) top management has touched the hearts of thousands of employees and their families of its Engine Division in Koraput by dedicating a civil helicopter to meet any medical emergencies.

The civil variant of the Advanced Light Helicopter (ALH) Dhruv (VT-HAQ) has become a huge relief for the Division's 3700+plus workforce and their families.


The HAL Engine Division is situated at Sunabeda in Koraput district of Odhisa, which is a remote area with fluctuating climate, at times. During a recent visit to the facilities, OneIndia was taken around the helipad, which is on an upgradation mode in the last couple of years.

The employees credit HAL Chairman R K Tyagi for instantly agreeing for their request for a helicopter service so as to reach Bhubaneswar, Cuttack and Visakhapatnam during emergencies.

"The need for a helicopter was projected in May 2012 and our Chairman ensured that in September 2012 Dhruv started its operations. The availability of Dhruv is a huge morale-booster for the workforce here," Maloy De, General Manager (Koraput), tells OneIndia.

Pawan Hans, HAL teams available 24x7

Today the Dhruv is operated by a team of pilots and ground engineering team from Pawan Hans Ltd (PHL). They are supported by HAL team headed by S Pandit, Additional General Manager (Helicopters and Services).

HAL's Helicopter Division in Bengaluru is in constant coordination with Sunabeda. In addition to medical evacuation, the Dhruv is also being used for VIP movement and aerial survey.

"The Dhruv has the capability to carry patients and other passengers in different approved configurations. The copter has come to the rescue of many families since 2012. Dhruv is a savior for all the employees of HAL Sunabeda. It's a relief for the employees to have a chopper to fall back on," says A B Pradhan, Additional General Manager, HR.


HAL upgrades helipad and infrastructure

The helicopter operations in the region began in 2005 with the Odhisa government setting up two temporary helipads at the HAL facility.

"Presently, the helipad has been upgraded and it constitutes of four concrete helipads and a non-concrete one. We can operate five helicopters at a time from this facility," says HAL Chairman Dr R K Tyagi.

Mandatory facilities like fire tender, ambulance, refueling, ground handling and ground-support equipment are available here. "In addition to Dhruv, bigger helicopters like MI-17, MI-8 and VIP helicopters like Dophin, Bell have operated in the last two years," says Dr Tyagi.

Commercialisation of ALH helicopter operation

HAL is keen to convert the Dhruv's operations into a profitable venture and have taken up the matter with the Odhisa government.

"Koraput district has many tourist destinations and it's also the land of NALCO, COBRA battalion of the CRPF, naval ammunition depot, Central University, paper mills among others. There is no helicopter or aviation service that connects this remote town to other communication centers. The scope is huge and we are hopeful of positive responses from various agencies," says an HAL official, who wanted not to be named.


Tourism potential high if Jeypore airstrip is extended

HAL officials say that the runway at the nearby Jeypore airstrip (40 km from Koraput) needs to be extended for tourism and other commercial purposes. "It is currently of 998 m in length and if extended larger aircraft can land here. If the IL-76s can land, then it would help us ship engines directly to various Indian Air Force (IAF) bases," says the official.

Currently the engines are being transported by road to various IAF bases, which is a risky and cumbersome process. "If the runway at Jeypore is extended to 3000 m, even the Boeings could land here. The Centre and state government should join hands for the benefit of this region. The Centre should include Jeypore too into the network of airports to be developed. Currently the airstrip is being used only during elections. The Vaydoots had operated from Jeypore in the 1990s," adds the official.


Our Take | OneIndia

With the IAF having no operational base in Odhisa, it could be a wise move to develop the Jeypore airstrip.

The Ministry of Defence should also look into from a strategic point of view so that the facility can be made into a chopper training centre.

In addition, the IAF can also use the HAL helipad for extending their training.

From quality assurance point of view, it is better to develop the Jeypore airstrip, so that the engines manufactured and overhauled at HAL Sunabeda will have a snag-free journey to various bases.

It will be a shot in the arm for all agencies involved in the anti-Naxal operations in the region.

(The writer is a seasoned aerospace and defence journalist in India. He is the Consultant Editor (Defence) with OneIndia. He tweets @writetake.)

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