KARACHI/ISLAMABAD: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) head offices in Karachi and Islamabad reopened Monday, following 'partial resumption' of flight operations at various international airports across Pakistan, PIA spokesman Daniyal Gillani said.

PIA flight operations partially resumed at Karachi's Jinnah International Airport on Monday, where flight PK 732 arrived at 1:50pm ─ nearly 12 hours later, however, than its scheduled arrival time ─ carrying pilgrims from Jeddah.

After remaining suspended for six days because of the employees’ strike, PIA flight operations partially resumed on Sunday when the airline’s two Boeing aircraft brought home 725 pilgrims stranded in Saudi Arabia.

Two more planes took off from Islamabad's Benazir Bhutto International Airport for Jeddah on Sunday night to bring back the remaining pilgrims. Another flight (PK-211) left for Dubai in the evening.

The airline’s ATR flight with four people on board landed at the Gilgit airport and returned to Islamabad with the passengers stranded there. One domestic and four international flights were operated from Lahore, but operations from other airports of the country could not resume.

However, PIA employees voiced concerns that proper safety protocol had not been followed to put the planes in the air.

PIA engineers warned the management against operating flights without ensuring the aircraft’s maintenance protocols as it may cause serious safety hazards.

The Society of Aircraft Engineers of Pakistan said: “The PIA management is forcing the engineers to release the aircraft without accomplishment of the prerequisites which are mandatory as per ICAO and PCAA regulations. The safety of passengers and the aircraft itself is being jeopardised. Inspections and components’ replacement issues are being waived off by PCAA Pakistan under pressure by the government officials,”

PIA employees get warning letter

On Sunday night, a warning letter about the application of the Pakistan Essential Services (Maintenance) Act, 1952, was delivered to striking employees to make them aware that their strike was illegal, the PIA spokesman said.

The employees protesting against the government move to privatise the national flag carrier had rejected the Act after it was imposed on Feb 2, and threatened to bring the flight operations to a standstill.

The letter says the law envisages serious penalties, including dismissal from service and imprisonment for a maximum period of one year along with a fine, for the protesting employees. The Act has been imposed for six months.

The employees were advised in the letter to refrain from indulging in any activity tantamount to an offence under the Act, failing which they might become liable for prosecution in court, besides facing disciplinary action under the corporation’s rules.

'Missing' employees return

Early Monday morning, four missing members of the Joint Action Committee (JAC) of PIA employees were released by unidentified individuals in various parts of Karachi.

The four employees ─ JAC leader and People's Unity (PU) President Hidayatullah Khan, PU Vice President Zameer Chandio, Saifullah and Mansoor Dhalwan ─ went missing last Wednesday.

During a protest against the proposed privatisation of the national flag carrier, JAC Chairman Capt. Sohail Baloch on Sunday warned the government that PIA employees would take out a rally from the PIA head office at the Old Terminal to the Jinnah Terminal to press their demand for the recovery of their four missing colleagues.

"The march was put off as our colleagues have returned," JAC Spokesman Nasrullah Khan told Dawn.com, but PIA employees will continue to protest outside all major airports until acceptance of their demands, he said.

Speaking to DawnNews, Hidayatullah said the four men had been detained for six days. "We didn't know where they were taking us at night," he said, as their eyes had been covered throughout. "They left us in various parts of the city... We don't know what agency they are from," he said of the people who detained him along with his colleagues.

The four employees were released by unidentified men, DawnNews reported. The men were interrogated during their detention, but not subjected to torture, sources claim.

The JAC spokesman confirmed the employees had been released, but was also unable to provide any details on who had detained them and why.

Nasrullah said a day after the four went missing, "They were part of our protest and played a key role in mobilising workers. They returned home last night, but today [Wednesday] we are not aware about their whereabouts."

He earlier told Dawn.com that a petition had been filed in the Sindh High Court regarding the disappearance of the protesters. No one was named in the petition, he said.

Privatisation of PIA

The National Assembly on January 21 witnessed the passage of six bills, including one to convert the national flag carrier into a public limited company.

Under the bill, Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (PIAC) is to be converted into a public limited company as Pakistan International Airlines Company Limited (PIACL).

The government plans to split the ailing national flag carrier PIA into two companies and sell the control of its core business to a global airline, but the opposition to the sell-off has been intense.

Although the government has assured PIA employees that no one will be laid off after privatisation, PIA employees insist the government accept their four-point agenda and put off privatisation.

─ With additional reporting by Hufsa Chaudhry.

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