By Syed M. Aslam
Mar 27 - Apr 02, 2000
Colonel (Retd) Syed Sajid Ali is the chief executive of Edhi Air
Ambulance. During his nine-year association with Edhi he has operated some 1,200 flights
to lift thousands of extremely sick patients, taken part in disaster relief operations
such as almost all major train disasters in Pakistan, flood and cyclone relief operations
and ecological surveys for protection of environment and preservation of wildlife. He is
also the chief pilot of three aircraft Edhi Air Ambulance fleet comprising two fixed-wing
plane; a Cessna 402 and a Piper Seneca , and a Bell Jet-Range Helicopter.
Sajid joined Pakistan Army in April 1965. After successfully completing
the Regular Commission he applied for, and got selected, for Army Aviation. He was a
member of Army Aviation's Fixed Wing Squad from 1972-75 and served as an instructor at
Army Aviation Flight School at Rawalpindi from 1974-78. During this time, he also finished
his conversion training to helicopter. The first unit of Puma Helicopter was raised by him
in Multan between 1981-84. He was the commander of Cobra attack helicopters during his
last three-and-half years with the Army Aviation when he took premature retirement in
PAGE: What prompted you to choose flying as a profession?
Col. Sajid: Since my childhood I have always been fascinated by
flying. The dream came true when I applied, and was, selected by the Army Aviation after
completing regular commission. During my nine-year association with Edhi Air Ambulance I
have flied extensively throughout the country, particularly the far-flung areas of
Balochistan. Edhi Air Ambulance is the only organisation in Pakistan which is allowed to
use both the civil and military airfields in the country. Till today it has used 47
airfields, both civil and military, plus dozens of other landing cities throughout the
country. It operates an average of 300 flights per calendar year.
PAGE: What kind of satisfaction do you get from such a
demanding job such as yours?
Col. Sajid: The ability to air-lift near-death patients and
injureds from accidents and disasters and being a part of saving precious human lives
gives me a deep sense of achievement which is not offered by any other job. The strong
humanitarian aspects and the hope that maybe the life of a sick or an injured person could
be saved by timely flying him/her to proper medical care is one of the major driving force
for me. Edhi Air Ambulance service is in the process of adding a fourth aircraft, a
Robinson R 44 helicopter within next three months to expand our operations out of our
station at Karachi International Airport. The induction will help us expand our night
operations unlike fixed-engine aircraft which can only be used between day-light hours,
the helicopter operations are a 24-hour routine. As is 30-40 per cent of our operations
comprise nighttime flights.
PAGE: What kind of fee do you charge for your operations?
Col. Sajid: It depends on the paying capacity of an individual or a
company. It can run from free to full payment. For instance, we may charge only a portion
or nothing at all if a person is poor or full price if a multinational has to air-lift one
of its employees, say from a remote oil field in the rural area. However, 25 per cent of
all our air-liftings are totally free. Our monthly fixed costs are around Rs 450,000 per
month of which only 30 per cent is met by the revenues which we charged for our services.
PAGE: How do you meet your expenses?
Col. Sajid: It is regrettable that not a single Pakistani national
company contribute a paisa to our organisation. As stated above revenue from our
operations meet only 30 per cent of our costs. The rest of the 70 per cent is susidised by
the Edhi Foundation. Some of the national companies who used to provide us financial aid
have stopped it long time ago. For instance, the Muslim Commercial Bank which used to
donate Rs 50,000 annually from 1994 stopped it in 1996. Similar is the case with donation
from the Habib Group lasted from 1991-93. Recently, Lasmo Oil Company of UK has agreed to
purchase a limited quantity of spareparts for our helicopter for which we are greatly
thankful. We are also thankful to the Civil Aviation Authority for providing us free of
cost hangar space as well as minor concessions like reduced landing charges.
PAGE: Do you have enough aircraft to carryout your
Col. Sajid: Absolutely not. Our fleet is not even big enough to
meet 10 per cent of the rescue and related operations. There should be a national air
ambulance service on the pattern of Royal Flying Doctors' Service of Australia to offer on
the spot medical care to patients in the far flung areas as sometimes it is just not
possible to air-lift a seriously ill patient. The government allows us to import
spareparts duty-free but since 1994 they are subjected to sales tax, 15 per cent at
present, which adds up to a sufficient amount. The government should not tax humanitarian
service such as ours.
PAGE: What message would you like to give to our readers?
Col. Sajid: I appeal to all well-to-do Pakistanis, individuals in
general and companies in particular, to help meet our financial needs to further the
expansion of our operations and service for the humanitarian reasons alone.