ISLAMABAD: The national flag carrier is considering legal options to sell off an Airbus plane that wound up in Germany under mysterious circumstances, a senior Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) official said on Tuesday.

“We are trying to find a solution to the problem. The Airbus is not missing; it is currently in Germany. The Federal Investigation Agency (FIA) is conducting a probe into the entire episode, which is yet to be completed,” PIA spokesperson Mashhood Tajwar told Dawn.

He said a tender floated earlier could not materialise and that now, the flag carrier was weighing options to sell the plane through a transparent tendering process. “It will be carried out strictly in accordance with Public Procurement Regulatory Authority (PPRA) rules and all formalities will be fulfilled,” he remarked.

The controversy over the dubious sale of the ‘missing’ A-310 aircraft recently echoed in both houses of parliament.

On Sept 12, Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmad told the Senate that the former acting chief executive officer (CEO) Bernd Hildenbrand had taken the plane with him when he left Pakistan.

FIA probing German ex-CEO’s role in ‘sale’ of A310 aircraft to German aerospace museum

A senior PIA official, however, said the plane had been chartered by a British company for the purposes of a film, which was shot in Malta, following which the aircraft flew to Germany.

“The plane had already completed its flying hours and was no longer airworthy. It’s a 30-year-old aircraft and had already been grounded,” he said, adding that the film company paid PIA over $200,000 as rent for the plane.

The Airbus was then flown directly to the Leipzig Halle Airport museum in Germany.

Both the plane and the former CEO are now in Germany and it still remains unclear how Hildenbrand’s name was removed from the Exit Control List (ECL) while an FIA probe was ongoing.

A source privy to the development said that the German ex-CEO of PIA had not only floated a tender to sell, but also hired a foreign consultant — who also held shares in the museum that was interested in purchasing the airplane.

Sources said Hilderbrand had secretly negotiated the sale of the aircraft with the museum, without seeking permission from the PIA board.

The museum had expressed an interest in purchasing the aircraft for “training and exhibition purposes” in Dec 2016 and had written to PIA in April this year, reaffirming that it was still interested in the deal.

The letter clearly stated that the Airbus was parked at its premises without any parking fee, but a source said that the fees were worth more than the estimated value of the retired plane.

An internal PIA inquiry has already found three of its top officials guilty of gross violations in this matter.

In December last year, the PIA Board of Directors formed a two-member inquiry committee that, found Hildenbrand, Director Procurement and Logistics Air Commodore Imran Akhtar Khan and Technical Consultant Helmut Bachhofner guilty of causing financial loss of over Rs500 million to the national carrier.

The report mentions that the entire sale process was based on mala fide intentions, as the original tendering process was tampered to ensure a single bidder was chosen. The probe committee’s 34-page report says that the price at which the perfectly functioning A-310 was sold was lower even than its scrap price.

“A channel was designed by the persons responsible for the actions under inquiry to phase out A-310 aircrafts at present and other assets at a later stage. The entire team involved could not have achieved this objective without connivance of each other and planting of Mr Helmut [Bachhofner].”

The consultant, the commission’s findings revealed, was a shareholder and partner in the only two companies that participated in the bid.

The committee also found it odd that although the A-310 was been handed over to the German company, there was no payment against it.

“The purchase price offered by M/s Mitteldeutsche Flughafen AG was not to be received in cash terms, instead it was to be settled on account of marketing and support expenses for a newly-planned flight route passing through Leipzig/Halle Airport to New York. The board hasn’t approved the route of Karachi-Leipzig-New York.”

Published in Dawn, October 18th, 2017