THE fact that 19 of PIA’s aircraft have been grounded due to lack of proper maintenance and age becomes all the more disturbing when it is considered that this figure comes to nearly half of the flag carrier’s fleet. Though the airline’s management claims the large number of jets is sitting idle due to “routine maintenance”, there are reasons to be sceptical. As per figures submitted to the Senate, the majority of PIA’s delays have been attributed to the inefficiency of the engineering department. Also, if so many planes are on the ground, it is fair to ask what state those in the air are in. A number of emergency landings of PIA aircraft have been reported recently. Maintenance delays have also been blamed on the purchase and procurement department as key posts in this department are lying vacant. This is ironic: while PIA is severely overstaffed, key departments where staff is required have vacancies.
PIA’s woes can be traced to one basic reason: mismanagement. In truth, all that ails the flag carrier is really all that ails Pakistan. Decades of corruption, lack of vision and inefficiency displayed by those tasked with running the airline have turned a once-exemplary carrier into a liability. If PIA’s management complains that Gulf carriers are ‘poaching’ its customers or that domestic airlines are giving it tough competition, it must remember that aviation is a business. If PIA doesn’t offer passengers punctual flights with a semblance of service at a fair price, fliers will gladly choose other airlines. In theory turning PIA around seems straightforward — stem the massive losses, hire professional managers well-versed in the aviation business, induct younger aircraft and maintain these. Above all, political meddling in PIA’s affairs should end. The airline’s steep descent can be halted if the state has the will to do so.