India’s newly acquired status as a host for one of each season’s Formula One Grand Prix car races has provided a prime opportunity for the country to demonstrate its readiness to embrace business aviation. The world’s highest profile auto sport has continued to be a strong magnet for private and corporate jets, and the race in Delhi on October 27 was no exception.
From an aviation perspective, the event ran relatively smoothly, especially compared with its first staging in India in 2011 when delays related to clearing customs and onerous taxes soured the experience for visiting operators. However, the difficulties race organizers encountered in meeting their obligations to operate special helipads around the race venue–primarily to allow for emergency medical flights–revealed the continued inadequacy of the regulations covering Indian rotorcraft operations.
The Formula One season’s challenging schedule calls for racing teams to move cars, personnel and equipment some 100,000 miles each year. According to Tom Webb with the Caterham team, air transport in support of the race is comparable to a medium-sized military operation. At the heart of this is F1’s official logistics partner, DHL.
For the long-haul races staged outside Europe, logistics are more complicated as equipment has to be flown out on transport aircraft. Six freighters operated by British Airways Cargo, United Airlines and Atlas Air flew the racing cars into Delhi International Airport. The cars are packed for transportation in UK garages and are given a “known consignee” status by UK Customs, allowing security checks to be conducted in the factory.
“With 35 [metric] tons of kit for each race, at the start of the year we send four replicas of each [car] set to the first four destinations of the race,” explained Webb. “The tricky part is air transport. For every race we have around 60 people arriving at staggered times.”
For this year’s Delhi Formula One race, visiting aircraft operators found the bureaucratic hurdles to be less daunting than anticipated, mainly because they were able to complete the required paperwork ahead of the event. When the race was staged in India two years ago, race teams had to spend hours in hair-splitting discussions with Indian officials over every piece of hardware flown into the country. Team officials anticipate similar difficulties when Russia hosts its first Formula One race next year.
While Formula One mechanics and support teams travel via airline, the drivers themselves tend to favor private jets. Some, such as Lewis Hamilton, have access to their own aircraft (in his case a Bombardier Challenger 605).
Restrictions Stifle EMS Role for Helicopters
The need to reserve the helipad at Delhi’s Apollo Hospital as an emergency medical standby facility for October’s Formula One race highlighted India’s lack of scope for rotorcraft EMS operations. Priyadarshini Pal Singh, head of the hospital’s accident and emergency department, complained that its helipad could not be used to respond to other emergencies for 10 days around the annual race. “This is a pity as so many lives could [have been] saved,” she told AIN.
According to V.Krishnan, president and CEO of local charter operator OSS Air, operational restrictions have severely curtailed EMS flights in the company’s AgustaWestland AW109C. “We need regulations and helicopter routes and paths to be defined or this business with [such strong] potential will never take off,” he commented.