Advertising

Of helicopters, misplaced priorities & exploitation by media

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Uzair Javaid |

Prelude

August 18th, Imran Khan was sworn in as Pakistan’s new Prime Minister, officially taking over the charge of power in the corruption affected nuclear-armed Pakistan, 22 years after the former cricketing legend entered politics. His inaugural address to the nation vowed austerity measures commencing from his own self, yet the state has to afford a robust security for the Premier be it minimalist or dense.

What is abysmal is that the media which masses look towards for socio-political cognizance has kept people tangled around the conjectures of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s lavish squanders overuse of Helicopter to commute, flouting vital facts including but not limited to: no road closures, no traffic disruption, business continuity, no emergency services disruption and above all – Premier’s Safety. It merits mentioning that a simple twitter video proliferated into talk-of-the-town with media outlets contributing unprecedented airtime and news-segments without putting in slight research pertaining to the type, size, endurance, and financial cost effect of the mighty Agusta Westland AW-139.

The technical intelligence units are also alerted prior to movement who would then start creating surveillance bubbles ensuring they jam and or intercept nearby communication for the Premier’s security.

The whole development somehow gave the opinion that many just aspired for an issue to needlessly ignominy the incumbent Government which was still teething through its infancy. The other aspect may be that the whole Helicopter use subject was grossly misunderstood down to its basic factors which already have been covered above. On the contrary, one thing is for sure, the unwarranted coverage of the episode has transmuted a non-issue into a matter of national security, instigating intermittent useless political debates when the country faces a burgeoning trade deficit and ever increasing foreign debt.

Read more: One martyred as Pakistan Navy helicopter crashed in Arabian Sea

The Aerial Route, Decrypting the Mysterious Cost Dynamics

It was entertaining to see so many people give so many distinct versions of their supposed absolute near-perfect calculations of what the cost of operating an AW-139 would be. Some brought ex-Army officers, who appeared to have retired long before Leonardo would have even conceived the AW-139, expecting to get a close figure. The humour was that some even went to the extent that they swapped AW-139 with a Robinson R-44 Helicopter with conviction and went on to discuss its Direct-Operating-Cost, one might think that replacing R-44 would have been intentional as it’s the only helicopter in the world whose detailed operational costs are published on the manufacturer’s official website.

Coming towards brief background of AgustaWestland AW-139; The aircraft has recently set trends across the globe for boasting a twin-engine with room for up to 16 passengers in the cabin beside 2 pilots, and a wonderful avionics package loaded with electronics to assist pilots to enjoy an absolutely smooth ride with autonomous hover and autopilot, and thus its selection for the role of Executive Flight for the Prime Minister of Pakistan. Carefully researching facts through credible names in the global aviation industry reveals that Conklin & de Decker is perhaps the best-known aviation industry facts & figures analyst which provides impartial advisory concerning procurements and or investment into aircraft & aviation companies.

The whole development somehow gave the opinion that many just aspired for an issue to needlessly ignominy the incumbent Government which was still teething through its infancy.

Business Jet Traveler or BJTOnline is a bimonthly publication producing eight issues per year (six regular bimonthly editions plus two annual Buyers’ Guides, in English and Chinese). Its subscribers include more than 35,000 C-level executives, high-net-worth individuals, and families who utilize private jets. It continues to be the only magazine offering a rich editorial package combining authoritative, objective aviation and lifestyle news and features written specifically for non-aviation executives who are increasingly turning to private aircraft as a means of improving productivity and quality of life.

Analysing the figures given in the excerpt from BJTOnline, the financial column of the excerpt shows different costs. Many in our media and self-proclaimed social media analysts used this including Dawn to show that the cost per hour is $1747 as mentioned in the second row of the financials. The make-shift specialists did not bother to read the meek statement below which said: cost/hour figures are based on 336 hours traveled per year; Cost/Unit distance figures are on 72,420 kilometers traveled per year.

Read more: Imran Khan summoned by NAB for ‘misusing’ KP government’s helicopters

It is important to make people understand the simple point that there are multiple factors which contribute in fixed or variable costs calculation. There are several mandatory periodical overhauls and maintenance on every aircraft known as TBO (time before overhaul). The $1747/hr. cost does not show the costs of planned and any unplanned maintenance and overhauls.

Conklin & de Decker, Business Jet Traveler, and select few others published technical and financial specifications for the AW-139 which are available to AgustaWestland customers and operators. The annual Direct Operating Costs of the aircraft without incorporating the important commercially operated aircraft components including crew salary costs (Pilot, Co-Pilot), ground technical & handling crew, recurring training, pilot ratings, aircraft modernization, aircraft insurance, flight taxes, parking fees and hangar charges – are $750/hr.

Working the $750/hour cost in Pakistan conditions under the status of Prime Minister’s flight gives us distinct working figures to calculate further as to the costs of operation. It is important to know that the Pilots, technical crew, ground handling staff and maintenance teams are all posted from the Army Aviation & Corps of EME. The entire staff works under the Commanding Officer (Lieutenant Colonel) who reports and works under the directives of the Cabinet Division.

The Mathematics

$750/hr. of flight can be divided into minutes which are: $12.5/min. Prime Minister’s flight has a seating configuration termed as Executive: 8 seats including 2 pilots and 1 technical crew. At $12.5/min, this divided on every seat goes down to $1.56/seat/min.

$12.5/min could be used to ascertain the cost of travel from the Heliport at Shakarparian to Banigala and from Banigala to PM’s secretariat. AW-139 cruises at 165 kts or 306 km/hr. but for such short span of flight, the flight parameters are: between 90-120 kts of velocity and an altitude between 2000-3000 ft. AGL (above ground level).

Read more: “Give me three months before you criticize the government,” PM Khan…

It takes around 2-4 minutes from ignition to attain maximum RPM (rotations per minute) before the downwash is enough for lift. 1-2 minutes of lift till 2000ft AGL. 3 minutes of flight till Banigala at 90 kts, further 1 minute for final approach and descent. So a flight from Heliport to PM’s House or Secretariat cannot take more than 15 minutes. At $12.5/min, we can assume a 20 minute flight which gives us: 12.5×20 = $250

The advantages of security when flying by air are immense as it promises continuity of routine life across the city’s heart where the Premier would otherwise pass through. Prime Minister’s movement does not end at a 7 car cavalcade, in effect a police or intelligence escort car typically moves at least 2-3 km ahead continuously in touch with the executive vehicles behind keeping them aware of the situation ahead. Furthermore, Police units are placed at major traffic junctions and intersections to ensure control.

One might think that replacing R-44 would have been intentional as it’s the only helicopter in the world whose detailed operational costs are published on the manufacturer’s official website.

The technical intelligence units are also alerted prior to the movement who would then start creating surveillance bubbles ensuring they jam and or intercept nearby communication for the Premier’s security. The whole exercise is susceptible to insider information leak (time of movement, car premier may be in, etc.) and thus poses threats from within as well. Taking the aerial route is on the other hand much safer as it reduces the number of humans involved in the security detail, thus drastically reducing the threat.

Read more: Imran’s political and diplomatic dilemmas – Asif Haroon Raja

Amazingly, the presser by the incumbent Information Minister Mr. Fawad Chaudhry where he quoted per kilometer cost of helicopter ride between Rs50-55, created a media and social media frenzy and all other sorts of satirical puns. It would not be naïve to endorse the Minister’s claim as it’s factually close if not accurate. At 100-120 kts, distance traveled in a minute would be several kilometers per minute.

Conclusion

The whole episode reiterated that nobody puts in a slight amount of effort to at least know some facts if not an expert level knowledge. Media could get much detailed analysis had they contacted the manufacturer: Leonardo (AgustaWestland). This was an utter exploitation by media which gave opposition party politicians a platform to lambast at the infant Government. Aspiring for a Naya-Pakistan, we must all at least pledge to shun speculations over technical matter many in Pakistan don’t even understand.

Uzair Javaid is an Aviation & Aerospace expert who has served with Bell Helicopters in Pakistan when the AH1Z attack helicopter deal with US was signed, later he has also served with teams of sales professionals in Pakistan which concluded the 14unit AW-139 deal with the PAF and a 3 unit AW-139 contract for supply to Pakistan Army. He currently serves at Datronix Ltd as Director where he is involved in sales/marketing of very high-level sensitive telecom and communication system sales including ELINT, SAR, COMINT and SATCOM. The views expressed in this article are author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Global Village Space.