KARACHI, Feb 26: While there is no airworthy aircraft or helicopter available to the governor and the chief minister of Sindh since the expiry of a five-year warranty of the government aircraft a few months ago, the Sindh government is mulling different options to purchase a new one, it emerged on Sunday.

The decision to purchase an executive aircraft for the government was taken in the light of a report from Chief Pilot Officer Brig Salman who according to a reliable source informed the government that the warranty of airworthiness of ‘Learjet, which was purchased in November/December 2006, had already exhausted’.

The source on the condition of anonymity told Dawn that if kept in further use, the aircraft’s service charges, which used to be around Rs25 million a year, could increase six times. He explained that the replacement of defective parts was earlier the responsibility of its manufacturer, but after the expiry of warranty period it would have to be borne by the government.

The grounded aircraft with 4.5-foot height of stand-up cabin, which remained in use of the governor and the chief minister for a few years, could hardly fly up to Multan and the top executives could become stuck in case of bad weather, a team of ministers and senior officials were informed at a meeting held on Feb 15.

The source said that the chief minister had earlier constituted a body comprising Finance Minister Syed Murad Ali Shah, Food Minister Nadir Khan Magsi, Civil Aviation Authority Director (Airworthiness), secretary to the chief minister, finance secretary and general administration secretary to invite bids from aircraft manufacturers and its authorised dealers, evaluate their offer, and prepare a summary with its recommendations.

At the recent meeting of the body, mainly three points were highlighted regarding the costs of aircraft.

The participants in the meeting were informed that if a new aircraft of the same size was purchased, the government would be required to pay at least four million dollars besides selling its old aircraft to its manufacturer for six million dollars. The new aircraft would cost around 12 million dollars, they were told.

But if offers were invited for its disposal from open market, the ‘Learjet’ could fetch between seven and eight million dollars.

However, in case the cabinet decides to go for a large aircraft, it would cost the government as much as 22 million dollars, the meeting was told.

In the light of these options, the committee invited offers from international bidders for a new executive jet with the minimum capacity of eight to 12 by April 5. The same day the offers would be opened in the presence of authorised representatives and agents, the source said.

However, he said, a final decision whether to purchase a new aircraft of the same size or a larger one would be made by the cabinet, because the committee would prepare a summary and submit it to the chief minister for his consideration and cabinet decision.

Asked about the fate of a Cessna aircraft, which also had been in the use of the governor and the chief minister in the past, the source said it had been grounded two and a half years back. Finally, the aircraft was sold to a Saudi company for 0.766 million dollars some 20 months back, he added.

He said the government of Punjab also had purchased a Cessna aircraft at the same time, but the Sindh government got a better offer. The Sindh government disposed of its aircraft for 0.766 million dollars though it had remained grounded for over two years, while the Punjab government could only fetch 0.6 million dollars from the sale of its Cessna aircraft when it was still airworthy.

Helicopters

About two helicopters, the source said both belonged to the Sindh Police but were not airworthy any longer. They were bought in 1992 from Dell company for Rs24 million. These helicopters remained in use for over 17 years for aerial surveillance of the law and order situation and for VIP movements. However, they have been grounded at the airport terminal for the past two and a half years.

Asked which helicopters and aircraft were used by the chief executive and other dignitaries for aerial view of the flood-hit areas of Sindh, the source said they were acquired from the army and the civil aviation against payment of the charges as per their rules.

In reply to another question, he said even if the government got a good offer, and acceptable to the cabinet, the process from signing the agreement and delivery of the aircraft would take eight to nine months and as such only the next elected government would be able to use the new facility.

He also recalled that the decision to purchase new aircraft for the government was taken over two years back, but it could not materialise due to changed priorities because of a state of emergency declared following the recent years floods and unprecedented rains in Sindh.