ONGC Chopper Hiring Process Was The Culprit

New Delhi, Dec 11: | Updated: Dec 12 2003, 05:30am hrs
The Committee of Inquiry set up by the government to examine the Mesco Mi-172 helicopter crash that killed 23 Oil and Natural Gas Corporation (ONGC) staff and 4 crew members in Neelam field near Bombay High this August, has questioned the very process of hiring of helicopters, holding this responsible for the tragedy.

In an indictment of the tender process the inquiry committee has found serious gaps in the selection of Pawan Hans and Mesco, the two helicopter companies who provide Mi-172 charters to ONGC.

The committee, headed by T S Vijayaraghavan, has said that Pawan Hans was empanelled to hoist Mesco clear of any stigma that it was chosen as a single tenderer in a contract initially floated on limited tender. Circumstances indicate (that) such was the case. Both bids ought to have been rejected and the exercise launched afresh. But both were accepted knowing fully well that Pawan Hans did not and will not perform and that Mesco would be the sole purveyor.

The committee has also noted that ONGCs international competitive bidding has been an idle exercise and the oil major is cabined, cribbed and confined to marshal its needs from Pawan Hans and domestic operators of small status.

The committee appears frustrated that policy deters ONGC from indenting on the best and safest on a global rest (and) only Indian operators have the passage to domestic air transport.

The Mi-172, the committee has said, is heavy on fuel and special efforts need to be taken to procure and stock spares. Also, Pawan Hans helipcopters have been unserviceable due to lack of spares when call out was made for them. A call out is a short notice call for a specific helicopter by an operator.

Foreign firms have responded to ONGCs bids but only to be disqualified because of their inability to fulfil the stipulations of government policy, the committee has complained.

The committee has noticed an undue preference for Mesco in call outs: Mi-172 hired from Mesco on call out was used much beyond the estimated hours, for 275.5 hours (between January and August 8, 2003) against 100 hours envisaged for the whole year.

New-Age Tender Coming

New Delhi: The Vijayaraghavan Report has come as a shot in the arm for pro-changers in ONGC. These officials had been hamstrung by archaic norms which allowed Pawan Hans and Mesco to have a free run.
A new-age tender is being readied. Here experience in offshore operations like the North Sea and Mexico and support that will be forthcoming from the parent company will be factored. The bidder will still need to have an Indian registration and approvals from the directorate-general of civil aviation.
But ONGC will refrain from pre-specifying helicopter types or introduce other irrelevant constaints. Instead, the company will ask for bids on a CoA (contact of affreightment). The winner will provide a total solution.
Speaking to FE, ONGC CMD Subir Raha said the tender will be invited on the cost reduction in new Era (CRINE) concept. CRINE was introduced in the North Sea oil and gas fields about 10 years back.
ONGC will only indicate the functional requirement i.e., the number of passengers to be carried from the helibase to the offshore platforms and back, number of inter-platform or inter-rig sorties required per day on average plus minus flexibility basis. ONGC will not specify type and number of helicopters, Mr Raha said. The pre-qualification criteria for the bidders will include: offshore experience and compliance of international offshore helicopter safety codes. Functional requirement should indicate the travel radius, including providion for the deep water exploration programme. The tender would be decided on the least-passenger kilometer basis and will be awarded to a bidder with total service capability

On the ill-fated Mesco Mi-172 which crashed on August 11, the committee has said:

* The machine did not have more than 400 flying hours life available on its major components against what was required. Critical examination of crucial details gathered from Mesco confirms that the left engine has 343.07 residual hours and tail gear box, tail rotor drive shaft and intermediate gear box 266.04 hours as on March 31.

* The provision for automatic inflatable floats to land on water existed on the tender, but in the Mi-172 it was operated through a manual switch located on the captains side. Why automatic inflatable floats were not enforced needs to be gone into, the report has asked. Mescos confirmation that the Mi-172 has automatic inflatable type floats is untrue. Mesco CEO Natasha Singh Sinha promised to send the reference of Aerazur of France, but did not even after many reminders. The question also arises as to how ONGC has been accepting a patently incorrect statement from the operator over the years.

* Mescos helicopter should have had its instrument flight rating (IFR) approved by an authorised agency. But Mesco executive Avinash Bharti signed the certificate directly. The committee has said that neither is Mesco an authorised agency nor is Mr Bharti an authorised signatory.

* The certificate of airworthiness was not submitted with the bid.

As per the report, Mescos non-scheduled operators licence was cancelled in September 2001 apparently because some of the directors did not have security clearance from the ministry of home affairs. After Mesco sought redressal the licence was restored. The committee notes that Mesco took up the work related to the renewal of the certificate of airworthiness. But that couldnt be revalidated, as the life of the helicopter was due for escalation by the Russian Aviation Regulatory Authoritys helecopter plant. The helicopter was accordingly grounded from Sept 5, 2001 until March 30, 2003. The helicopter was granted the certificate initially for a period of 8 days starting March 31. A team of Russian specialists carried out the full inspection and its life was escalated upto 4,000 hours upto April 8, 2004.

The short point lies in para 48 of the report: ONGC should have rejected Mescos bid, as it did not meet the bid evaluation criteria.

Besides Dr Vijayaraghavan, the inquiry committee included Maj Gen SCN Jatar and Prof Pritam Singh. The interim report was given on December 2.

The helicopter which crashed into the sea in Mumbai offshore on August 11 at 12:16 hours was on crew-change sortie of workover rig Sagar Kiran and drilling rig Sagar Jyoti. It took off from the helibase at Juhu at 1130 hours and landed at Sagar Kiran at 1209 hours. Immediately after the helicopter took off with fresh passengers, it crashed into the sea with 29 abroad. There were 25 passengers consisting of 14 officers, 8 workmen of ONGC and 3 contract employees besides a crew of 4. Search and rescue operations rescued two ONGC persons alive and recovered bodies of 26 dead. The body of Captain DK Mittal, the co-pliot, could not be found and is persumed dead, The wreckage was retrieved on August 13, 2003.