LAHORE -  The helicopter purchased by the Punjab government for the chief minister is expected to be operational early next week as over a dozen Russian engineers have been busy assembling the machine for the last nine days.

The cost of the chopper is said to be approximately US$143 million. However, if other expenditures are also included the total price may be up-to US$425m, official sources said, in the Finance Department. The expenses other than the machine cost include its transportation of the cargo plane, Russian team hoteling, stamp duty, training of Pakistani pilots and engineers in Russia etc. Punjab government spokesperson Malik Ahmad Khan was not available to confirm the cost.

The Punjab government has been using the federal government’s helicopter on rent for the use of Chief Minister Shehbaz Sharif.

The second badge of the engineers and pilots comprising seven personnel is due shortly to conduct the air testing of the rotary machine.

After testing the copter flight satisfactorily, it would be handed over to the Punjab government’s aviation wing that will be allowed to utilise it for the VVIP, rescue and other services.

Both of the assembling team and the testing engineers and pilots team will stay for two weeks and leave for Russia while the other group of engineers called warranty team will stay in Pakistan till completion of the warrantee period of the helicopter that is one year. Thus total 30 Russian people have been allowed to visit Pakistan.

Sources said, “The new chopper has a configurable cabin that allows several roles including VIP transport, passenger transport, cargo transport, air ambulance tasks, patrolling and remedial actions in emergency situations. It is also increased flight safety due to the installation of enhanced ground proximity warning module.”

Official sources in the Punjab government said that the government claimed the insurance money for the helicopter that was crashed in Afghanistan last year when it was on its way to Russia for overhauling purposes.

It is said that the Punjab government is likely to win the claim of Rs200 million for the crashed helicopter with the National Insurance Company Limited. That MI 17 rotary machine was also purchased from Russia in 2005 and its cost was about Rs200m at that time, said the sources.