‘PIA is blessed with more talent than other airlines’
Q: How important was your task to lead the team that helped launch Emirates in 1985?
A: I was the head of the Pakistan International Airlines-Emirates project and the first chief pilot coordination who was assigned to launch the new airline based in Dubai; I was assigned the task to lead a team of 100 PIA experts to help launch Emirates.
It was a very important assignment because many leading airlines had shown an interest in getting the contract to launch the Dubai-based airline, but Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum insisted that the then managing director of PIA, Air Marshal Vicar Azeem, that he had to do the job, nobody else.
In September 1985, the managing director called me into his office and selected me as team leader, but at first I refused to go abroad because of my family. Although I was assured it would not take more than three months, I took 10 months to complete the task.
I had no choice but to show my willingness when I was told by the managing director that this was a very important project for PIA and for Pakistan. I had 100 experts, including engineers, flight operation experts and maintenance crew at my disposal, and the full support of the PIA.
Q: What was it like to lead a team of 100 PIA experts and work in Dubai?
A: It was a good experience. I travelled to Dubai with my engineering manager M. Iftikhar Mir in the last week of September. The following day, we held a meeting with Maurice Flanagan, Emirates’ managing director for the launch.
There was a blackboard in the hall and it was on that the Emirates airline began taking shape, as I used to write the daily progress report on that blackboard.
I was nervous; I had no experience launching a new airline, and the team consisted of strangers of various nationalities. Most of the workers had been together in the Dnata setup, however, they had very little experience with the flight operations and engineering aspect.
I had a very competent team of professionals; the challenge was to intersperse flight operations, engineering and maintenance crew within the setup and combine flight and cabin crew with various nationalities, backgrounds and training levels to create an optimum environment that matched the PIA crew.
Q:What part of this experience was particularly memorable for you?
A: I will never forget when every morning I would sit at a table with Sheikh Ahmad bin Saeed Al Maktoum, Mr Flanagan, Sultan Dhiyab bin Saqr, Mohammad Al Khaja, Tim Clark, Peter Hill, Bob Home, Don Faster and Mac Diarmid to discuss developments and report on our individual progress. We would share problems, pose hypothetical and brainstorm solutions.
And I will also not forget when I assigned the first flight to Capt Manzoor Chaudhry, the senior-most pilot on my team and sat behind him on the jump seat.
Sheikh Mohammad bin Rashid Al Maktoum and other dignitaries were on board the first special flight. On Oct 25, we operated the first international flight to Karachi and Mumbai, with the inaugural flight to Delhi taking place the next day.
Q: How would you compare PIA to other international airlines?
A: No doubt PIA is blessed with more talent than other airlines, but the organisational setup of PIA and other airlines are different from each other. The PIA CEO has limited authorities and decision-making powers, but in other airlines nobody intervenes in the work and management-related decisions. Decisions should be made on merit without any influence from government and workers’ pressure.
Published in Dawn, July 21st, 2018