We’re a nation obsessed with mileage. Every conversation at a car showroom, or a used car dealership, or the awkward meeting resulting from some to-and-fro on Pakwheels or OLX, has to feature prominently that question of questions: kitna kar leti hai?
Despite not having much money to spend, youngsters aren’t all too pushed about the mileage, caring more about the flashier aspects of cars. As one gets older, however, purchase decisions boil down to this. Expect an uncle, at the end of a tour of the Heavy Industries Taxila, asking the same question about the Al Khalid Tank.
Well, the new federal information minister Fawad Chaudhry wasn’t too far from that territory when, defending the prime minister’s daily commutes from Bani Gala to PM Secretariat on helicopter, said it wasn’t all too much of an expenditure and that it costs just around “Rs 50-55 per kilometre.”
He could have said something else – and did – like the entourage of vehicles that would have been accompanying him had he been commuting by road, not to talk about the inconvenience caused to the ordinary citizens plying the roads.
Even when compared to the entourage, the PM’s official helicopter would guzzle far, far more fuel. Furthermore, take-offs and landings are what really sucks the life out of the fuel supply, so shorter journeys, like the extravagant one from Bani Gala to the PM Secretariat, cost a whole lot more per kilometer. Though, it doesn’t go much, much lower even on the longer journeys. A helicopters, unlike a plane, “does not want to fly. It is maintained in the air by a variety of forces and controls working in opposition to each other.” That is the sort of grind that drains the fuel.
Cheaper it obviously isn’t but a spin doctor’s job being what it is, one could empathise with Chaudhry on this front. Where he got the idea to go for the whole Rs 50-55 per kilometer business is anyone’s guess.
An interesting fallout of the statement, of course, is the fallout. Overnight, the number of aviation enthusiasts in the country increased manifold, none of them shying away from expressing their views on the matter.
Now, yes, there can be many different ways of looking at an issue. But beyond a point, one has to realise that you are entitled to your own opinions, not your own facts.
The supporters of the PTI started googling for anything that they could find that they could agree with and, lo and behold, they did, in the form of a video by an outfit called little known “Inkishaaf” that had done some half-baked “calculations” on the matter, using Google Maps and some searching of obscure websites.
More surprising still were the well-educated individuals (supporters of the PTI but otherwise intelligent) sharing this video in earnest!
The actual figures, of course, are nowhere close to being anywhere close to what Chaudhry had cited.
“The 3-minute figure does not make sense because any helicopter takes a certain amount of time to reach the take-off point,” says Malik Tariq Ali, a former PIA engineer.
“And this is probably the part which consumes the most fuel.”
“Although average cruise fuel consumption is about 5-6 litres per Nautical Mile (NM), it uses a minimum of 40 litres to achieve cruise altitude of 12,000 feet and approximately 50 litres to reach 15,000 feet which would be recommended safe height for security purposes,” he explained.
“The average cost per NM would be in the range of over $250-350 per minute taking into account the total cost incurred.”
This would mean that a three-minute chopper ride could cost up to Rs12,000. In comparison, at Fawad Chaudhry’s claimed rate of Rs 50-55 per kilometer, a to and fro ride would cost only around Rs 2,000.
While the difference is clearly a big one, this is still not taking into consideration the time and fuel spent on the helicopter’s take off and initial warming up.
To achieve the requisite flying height of 15,000 feet, the helicopter would need to burn at least 50 liters as per the instructions of the aircraft manufacturers. This would just be the helicopter taking off into the air and would not include the fuel spent in the time given for it to pick up power while it is grounded. Similarly, a certain amount of time also has to be given after the chopper has landed.
Major (r) M Zaheer, another aviation expert, corroborated the claim. He said that the distance from Bani Gala to the PM’s office takes 7 minutes to cover, and that the take-off time included rounds it off to at least an hour of helicopter usage.
He said, “The total measurement is taken from the moment the copter is turned on to the moment it lands and is shut off, not just the flying time.”
“The per hour cost is thus somewhere around Rs 370,000 for the prime minister’s travel.”
Not that any of that matters, however. If social media has proved anything, it is that people will seek out from the dark, deep recesses of the web a link of a blog maintained by some tin foil hat-wearing loony living in a basement somewhere if it happens to corroborate with the convictions they already hold.