Bangalore: Deccan Aviation Limited (DAL), the country's largest private sector heli-charter company has been awarded a three-year contract by Shri Amarnathji Shrine Board (SASB) for providing helicopter services for the Amarnath shrine yatra. The J &K Govt organizes the Amarnath yatra every year during the months of July and August.
The pioneering aviation company has said that helicopter services for this year's Yatra have already begun, and that it has already carried 961 passengers on the Baltal - Amarnath - Baltal sector, on 21- 24 June 2007.
Situated in a narrow gorge at the far end of Lidder valley, Amarnath stands at 3888 meters and is located 141 kms from Srinagar, the State's capital. The trekking route to Amarnath can be rather risky for some pilgrims, as it involves steep mountain routes, snow ridges and fast flowing streams. In such conditions, helicopter services can become an essential mode of transport for some pilgrims.
Deccan Aviation helicopter service to the holy cave is available from Srinagar and Baltal, which is the launching pad for the final leg of the pilgrimage. The flying time from Srinagar to Baltal is around 45 minutes, and from Baltal to the holy cave, around 8 - 10 minutes.
Capt GR Gopinath, executive chairman, Deccan Aviation said, "We Indians are spiritual and religious people. Pilgrimages like the Amarnath Yatra are sacred and important, once in a lifetime, experiences for the religious minded."
"The trek takes anything between 6 - 8 days as against a few hours by chopper which would prove to be a boon to travelers short on time and to people who are unable to undertake the trek. We also have regular charter services from Katra to Vaishnodevi," he added.
Deccan Aviation has deployed 3 modern Bell 407 helicopters for the services. While two will be stationed at Baltal, the third will be deployed at Srinagar. The Bell 407 can carry 4 - 5 passengers. Flights start at 6.30 am and continue through the day, subject to weather conditions.
SASB has permitted 50% of the seats to be made available for advance booking. Deccan Aviation has appointed two agents - one in Delhi (Vaishno Devi Helicopter Ticketing) and the other in Srinagar (Shiraz Travels) where tickets can be purchased.
Deccan has said that the modern and comfortable Bell 407 helicopters will be crewed by its most experienced pilots and engineers, as well as a team of 2 dozen traffic and commercial staff. These have been deployed at Baltal and the holy cave to ensure that all pilgrims have a safe and comfortable passage.
Deccan Aviation is India's largest private sector helicopter charter company with a network of bases spanning seven locations across the country. Promoted and operated by senior officers from the Indian Army Aviation, Deccan Aviation was launched from the corporate base at Bangalore in September 1997.
The company has a fleet of 11 helicopters and 2 fixed-wing aircraft deployed across bases at Bangalore, Mumbai, Delhi, Ranchi, Hyderabad, Surat and Katra (J&K).