PESHAWAR, Nov 15: The NWFP government has purchased a helicopter, while acquisition of another one is on the cards, for swift movement of the chief minister, governor and other VIPs.

The Russian-made ‘MI171’ chopper has been delivered to the NWFP government, while deal for another one is almost done, an official told Dawn here on Saturday.

The former MMA government had taken a decision to purchase two helicopters following the 2005 earthquake, when the chief minister and other dignitaries failed to reach on time to the earthquake-affected to assess the situation on ground.

Previously, the government had decided to purchase second-hand choppers with involvement of the Ministry of Defence, but now the government had opted for brand-new choppers to avoid the cost of maintenance, the official said.

The new helicopter, which cost Rs504 million to the Frontier government, has arrived in Islamabad from where it will be handed over to the Askari Aviation, a subsidiary of the Army Welfare Trust that will be responsible for its maintenance and operation.

The helicopter, said the official, would be available primarily for movement of the chief minister, governor and other dignitaries; however, the Askari Aviation could also use it for offering logistic services to UN bodies with permission of the provincial government.

In that case, the provincial government would charge the Askari Aviation for using its helicopter for commercial purposes, said the official.

All the other three provincial governments had their own aircrafts for their VIPs, whereas the Frontier government was dependent on private flying club, which according to official “was an expensive option”. As per the arrangements reached with the flying club, the official said, the provincial government had hired 240 flying hours from it, as in case of flight the flying club would charge it Rs75,000 per hour and Rs49,000 per hour when the facility was not availed.

Since 1998, the provincial government had paid roughly Rs250 million on availing the flying services, the official added.

The NWFP government had also established a new VIP flight wing at administration department to coordinate matters of dignitaries’ flights. Currently, the wing had the services of two section officers and their supporting staff, while another post of deputy secretary was being created, the official said.

He said the previous government had also decided to recruit pilots for operating the choppers, but the decision was turned down later because it could have multiplied financial woes of the provincial government.

“The same arrangements had already flopped in other provinces,” opined the official, adding: “Even the Azad Jammu and Kashmir government, which is also intending to buy a chopper, recently approached the Frontier government for replicating the process it had adopted to purchase the choppers and their maintenance and operations.”

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