Governments flying high in times of crippling austerity | Pakistan Today

Governments flying high in times of crippling austerity

LAHORE: The federal and provincial governments are all praise for their respective austerity measures at a time when the civil apparatus at both ends is devoting enormous resources for the maintenance of its substantially large VIP fleet of 24 aircraft.
Data made available with Pakistan Today revealed that the federal and provincial governments operate 24 luxury aircrafts ranging from Airbus A310 to Cessna Citation for VIP movement. The data showed that the government bought the luxury fleet during various regimes at an accumulated cost of $183 million.
The report said the federal government operated an Airbus A310 for VVIP travel and two Gulfstream IV SP for the president and the prime minister.
Similarly, the Punjab government operates a Beechjet 400A and a MI-17 helicopter, in use by the Punjab chief minister and the PML-N chief.
The Sindh government owns a Learjet 45XR and Bell 412 helicopter, Balochistan maintains a Learjet 35A, while the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa has a Eurocopter AS-350 Eccuirell and a MI-17 helicopter.
Figures revealed that in addition to these jets and utility helicopters, the federal and provincial governments operate two Cessna Citation, one Cessna Bravo, two Beech Super King Air 350, one Beech King Air 200, four Embrear Phenoms, two AgustaWestland AW139 helicopters and a 412 HP.
Aviation experts say commercial viability of a private aircraft was dependent on its usage and average flying time per day. They believe that owning and operating a private aircraft could only be feasible if it flew for a minimum 12 to 14 hours per day.
Figures of the Punjab Supplementary Budget 2009-10 indicate that the Punjab government spent Rs 8.22 million over and above the budgeted amount on account of VIP flight maintenance and operations.
It clearly states that the viability of operating private fleet and aviation experts argue that similar figures could be easily be found in the accounts of the federal and the other three provincial governments.
It is interesting to note that governments at all levels are exempted from civil aviation charges, which means that no government-owned aircraft pays airport tax or parking fare to authorities.
A senior Civil Aviation Authority official revealed that former finance minister Shaukat Tareen once proposed that the federal government commercialise its fleet and use aircraft only when required.
He said it was estimated that the governments at both the Centre and provincial level could save tonnes of money with the expenditure on maintenance and crew being curtailed.
He added that political rivalry among various political parties and leaders was also causing huge losses to the public exchequer. For example on several occasions, both Punjab chief minister and governor were invited to the same function, but they took separate flights to the same destination.
The official said the duplication of maintenance services at all levels put a greater burden on the national exchequer, suggesting that the governments should merge their fleets to reduce overheads and streamline operations. He added that if the fleet was amalgamated, it could be utilised more efficiently.

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