According to Major General Satish Bikram Shah, the director general of Military Aviation of Nepal Army, the army fleet requires additional aircraft for effective service delivery, especially during disasters. Of the total of 21 aircraft, four are airplanes and 17 are helicopters. But only 11 helicopters--four MI-17, two Super Puma, two Lancers, one Cheetah, one Islander, and one LH, among others, are in operation.
Other helicopters of Nepal Army are grounded with technical problems, according to the Nepal Army officials. "Because of the delay in maintenance, our air service could not operate optimally during the disaster," an NA official requesting anonymity said.
Major General Shah said that natural calamities in the country usually peak during monsoon, but the grounded helicopters are not expected to be maintained sooner as they need to be checked by technicians from abroad.
PM Koirala among other ministers in the inauguration progam at TIA. (Photo: Bijay Gajmer)
Another senior NA official said, although the two MI-17 helicopters are a relief as monsoon begins, the available helicopters won't be enough to rescue people during disasters and the country may still need to depend on assistance from foreign countries.
According to NA's Directorate of Public Relations, Prime Minister Sushil Koirala formally flagged off service in the presence of Chief of Army Staff (CAoS) Gaurab Samsher Rana amid a ceremony held in Kathmandu.
Nepal Army had received the two Russia made choppers Mi-17 V-5 on June 9 as per the procurement agreement made on December 19, 2013.
Russia's state-run arms exporter Rosoboronexport's Joint Stock Company had delivered the two choppers to the Nepal Army. The company has manufactured over 11,000 helicopters till the date.
Meanwhile, a team of high ranking government officials flew to Jharlang, Dhading, one of the earthquake affected areas, for inspection and relief distribution on the helicopters. The choppers are capable of navigating remote Himalayan terrains and flying in unfavorable weather conditions. Mi-17V-5 is the latest modification of Mi-17 and intended for multipurpose role--transportation of huge cargo, VIP, para jump, troops and supports night vision operation, high altitude operation, sling operation. The helicopter can lift up to 4,000 kgs.