Did The Punjab Govt Buy 2 Air Ambulances?

There is a discrepancy in the messages posted by Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz and Azma Bukhari and official notices issued by the government

Did The Punjab Govt Buy 2 Air Ambulances?

The Punjab government recently announced plans to acquire two planes and a helicopter to add an air wing to the provincial emergency response service, Rescue 1122. The announcement caused quite a stir on social media. But when details of the proposition came to light, it raised questions about the initial reports that the provincial government was purchasing the aircraft.

The whole thing started when local news channels aired reports that Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif was planning to buy a new jet for the Punjab government. These news reports were soon followed up by social media posts by provincial minister Azma Bukhari, in which she shared photos of a plane. Later, Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N)  leader and Punjab Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz Sharif shared a video in which you could see Rescue 1122 staff carrying out an exercise using the plane. 

While government officials publicly announced the planes' imminent arrival and explained how they would operate, it is important to unpack what has actually happened. 

What is an air ambulance? 

An air ambulance is simply an aircraft, such as a helicopter or fixed-wing aeroplane, that has been retrofitted to transport injured or ill people in a medical emergency over a distance or area impractical for a conventional ground ambulance. 

Like ground ambulances, air ambulances are also equipped with medical equipment necessary to monitor and treat injured or ill patients. Medical equipment in air ambulances includes medications, ventilators, electrocardiogram (ECG) and monitoring units, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) equipment, and stretchers.  

There are two types of air ambulances. The first type is equipped with medical personnel who can provide in-flight medical care. The other type is non-medically equipped and crewed aircraft that can easily transport critically ill patients who do not require in-flight health maintenance.

In military parlance, the first type of air ambulance is referred to as a medical evacuation (MEDEVAC) and the latter is called casualty evacuation (CASEVAC). 

Punjab govt and air ambulances

First, let's see what the Punjab government has said about the air ambulances.

According to a tender issued by the Punjab government's Emergency Services Agency Rescue 1122 on March 10, 2024, the Punjab government said it was launching an "Air Ambulance Service in Punjab" to transport critical patients from remote areas in south and north Punjab to specialised hospitals.

For this purpose, one air ambulance will be stationed at Rawalpindi/Mianwali and the other at Multan/Bahawalnagar.

The tender invited companies that were prequalified/registered with the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) to submit their tenders/ bids for providing two aircraft for a year— the duration of which could be extended based on their performance as per the Punjab Procurement Rules 2014.

The Punjab government and the PML-N social media groups complicated the whole narrative. It appeared that Chief Minister Maryam Nawaz was talking about one thing while her public relations team was talking about another, and the whole social media troupe was on a different tangent. 

The corrigendum evidences that the rescue organisations and civil aviation authorities were probably watching from the sidelines before they decided to intervene and correct course. 

In the corrigendum the government of Punjab corrected that "Reference to tender notice No.15/23-24(Dev) published under IPL No.2007 in the newspapers namely "The Nation", "Roznama Express" and "Daily Jang" on March 10, 2024, to launch the Air Ambulance Service in Punjab. Accordingly, the description for "two airplanes for provision of Alr Ambulance Service in Punjab is hereby replaced with the description of "Hiring of Services for Alr Ambulance Service in Punjab". 

What the change in the tender essentially translates to is the difference between the Punjab government buying and maintaining these aircraft at their expense—and watching them turn into white elephants in their backyard, akin to the Pakistan International Airlines for the federal government—as opposed to renting these aircraft from someone who owns and maintains them. 

Azma Bukhari on a tangent

While the Punjab government tacitly acknowledged it was not buying the planes but rather acquiring services that, in effect, would allow Punjab to access two planes to cater to emergencies across the province, PML-N's social media troupe and public relations machine, led by Punjab Information Minister Azma Bukhari, decided to push ahead with the narrative that "Maryam Nawaz is buying two air ambulances." 

In a press conference, Bukhari maintained that "Maryam Nawaz has bought this plane for the convenience of the people." 

This statement, however, is a misrepresentation. Either the Punjab government (Maryam Nawaz Sharif is the Chief Minister) is buying planes for rescue services, or, according to the tender advertisement for rescue services, the Punjab government needs "service" providers for the Air Ambulance Service, not planes. 

Moreover, the Punjab government spokesperson made the following claims:

  1. The first Air Ambulance aircraft has reached Pakistan.
  2. The air ambulance can land in a small space. 

  3. Three air ambulances and two helicopters will be used for rescue. 

  4. Air ambulances will be parked at three locations across Punjab. 

  5. Hospitals will have space to land planes and helicopters. 

  6. Air Ambulance facility will be available free for the public. 

Bukhari followed up the press conference on April 13 with a tweet in which she shared four pictures of a plane and wrote, "This is the plane that the Chief Minister of Punjab has bought for the patients." 


However, according to the tenders from the Punjab government, neither the Punjab chief minister nor the Punjab government has bought the plane; it is being bought (or is already owned) by the service provider.  

Of further interest are the images of the plane shared by Bukhari. They show a plane with seats for four passengers parked in front of the Lansaria Aircraft Interiors hangar at an airstrip outside of Johannesburg, South Africa. It is a Piper Seneca II aircraft built by American aircraft manufacturer Piper in 1975.


The aircraft's registration shows that Heritage Aviation of South Africa currently owns it, with the registration number "ZS-PPV." However, this aircraft has yet to reach Pakistan and register with the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). 

Bukhari's proclamations were followed by a video shared by Maryam Nawaz Sharif and then repeated on PML-N accounts. This video showed Rescue 1122 personnel conducting a drill where they transport patients on a plane. 

However, the aircraft shown in this video carries the registration number "AP-BPA". SkyWings Aviation acquired it in November 2018.

SkyWings Aviation is a Karachi-based company and trustee of the Abdul Sattar Edhi Foundation, which operated the first air ambulance in the country. It holds an Aerial Work License Class-I (domestic) issued by the PCAA and is valid until October 27, 2024. In addition, SkyWings has a Class-II flying school licence, valid until November 13, 2028. Last year, Skywings announced an air taxi, but it got a weaker-than-expected response and is currently not being operated. Skywings currently operates an air ambulance service for the Edhi Foundation. 

The aircraft "AP-BPA" was imported on January 25, 2021 and was registered in Pakistan in February 2024. This aircraft could have been used as an air ambulance from 2018 onwards. 

Thus, the plane seen in Maryam Nawaz Sharif's video is the same plane operated by SkyWings for Edhi. 

Demystifying claims of Punjab government 

Thus, we are now in a better position to understand the context and reality of the information shared by Punjab Information Minister and spokesperson Azma Bukhari in her press conference and subsequent tweets.

1. The first Air Ambulance aircraft has reached Pakistan. 

Not a single plane has reached Pakistan yet, nor have they been registered with Pakistani authorities, the CAA.

One aircraft to be acquired by SkyWings is still in South Africa, while the other is still in the US. 

If everything goes according to plan, the plane in South Africa is expected to reach Pakistan by the end of May or early June, while the plane in the US is expected to reach Pakistan in June. 

2. The air ambulance can land in a small space. 

This statement depends on many factors including the aircraft, the place of landing and the pilot. 

There are various places in Pakistan where aircraft can land or take off from certain segments of the highways or motorways. The aircraft that SkyWings is acquiring can land at many places across the country if the place has been inspected on the ground and is deemed safe for landing.

Apart from highways, this aircraft can also land on paved surfaces and grassy fields. Punjab has eight major airports and around a dozen airstrips that can be used in emergency situations, such as the airstrip near Sahiwal or Okara Cantt or the emergency strip at the stone crushing area in Sargodha, which is connected to the road.

An airbase or an army base can be the exception.

However, all this will depend on the operator's ability to execute the process securely and their willingness to take risks. 

Who will operate the Air Ambulance for Punjab government? 

The Punjab government has shortlisted three operators for the Air Ambulance Service Charter. These include Lahore's Hybrid Aviation and two companies from Karachi, including SkyWings Aviation and Aircraft Sales and Services Corporation. 

According to the Rescue 1122 department, the Punjab government will evaluate the bids submitted by these companies and select the firm with the lowest evaluated bid. SkyWings Aviation submitted the lowest bid to operate two air ambulances at a cost of only Rs180,000 (US$540) per hour, including all repairs, maintenance, fuel, staff salary, insurance, etc. The firm has thus been awarded the contract. 

According to the rescue agency, the estimated cost approved by the Punjab government for this contract is Rs440 million. Such a budget indicates that the provincial government is not looking at operating a large number of flights. Even if the entire budget is allocated to operating flights, it would allow for around seven to ten flights per month. These could change based on any change in the rupee-dollar exchange rate.

The company says the air ambulance can carry two pilots, one patient, one paramedic and one attendant. Moreover, the plane will be able to land on smooth surfaces such as motorways and local roads with short landings and takeoffs.  

Maryam and the rescue organisation had said that the air ambulances would be stationed in northern and southern Punjab, with one plane available in Rawalpindi and the other in Multan. The Chief Minister's helicopter will be available in Lahore. 

Azma Bukhari further said that space will be created for landing planes and helicopters in hospitals. 

The expediency of the service will be determined based on how it performs, but as it stands, the claims made by certain members of the Punjab government are inaccurate. The province has outsourced the operation of two fixed-wing aircraft as air ambulances in the province's north, western, and southern areas. But, these aircraft have yet to arrive in Pakistan, and the service is not expected to become fully operational until later this year.