ISLAMABAD, July 4: The controversy surrounding PIA’s decision to lease replacements for its six A300B4 Airbus aircraft, which it had declared unsafe and wanted to sell, has taken another twist following disclosures that the Airbuses were so airworthy that PIA itself had considered leasing out an engine of the grounded fleet. These disclosures made the chairman of the Senate Committee on Defence and Defence Production, that has been probing the matter, to fire a letter to PIA chairman to explain the contradiction in his assessment of the airworthiness of the grounded Airbuses and that of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which said the planes “stand safe and airworthy from operational standpoint”.

In the letter addressed to chairman PIA, Tariq Kirmani, secretary of the committee Iftikharullah Babar said, “Senator Nisar Ahmed Memon, Chairman Standing Committee on Defence and Defence Production, has conveyed that there is a contradiction between the statement given by you in the meeting of the committee on May 24, 2005, and the statement of the director airworthiness, CAA.”

Documents obtained by Dawn show that the letter dated July 2 asks chairman PIA to give his reply immediately so that the committee could take up the matter at its next meeting.

The committee sought explanation after it received the replies to questions regarding airworthiness of the Airbus A300B4 from Director Airworthiness of CAA, Zafarullah Khan.

The CAA director informed the committee, “As far as certificate of airworthiness of these aircraft is concerned, these are currently valid and these aircraft are being maintained as per approved maintenance schedule. As such these aircraft stand safe and airworthy from operational standpoint.”

However, the director CAA said “the aging fleet has escalation in its maintenance/operational cost and a stage reaches whereby an aircraft becomes somewhat economically unfeasible”.

Other documents show that the Senate’s defence committee has once again questioned the sale of A300B4 after it came to know that PIA had at one stage considered leasing out just one engine for $1.2 million while the corporation had finalized the entire sale deal for six airworthy aircraft for $10.1 million.

“PIA is negotiating to lease CF6-50C2 engine to Tristar Amsterdam for $1.2 million for one year. The chairman committee would like to know the financial benefits PIA ignored by: (i) not leasing the aircraft instead of outright sale; (ii) after the planes were declared unsafe by chairman PIA why the option of leasing major components such as engines, APU, landing gears were not considered,” said another letter sent by the committee to chairman PIA on July 2.

Earlier, the Senate committee in its meeting on My 24 had rejected the findings of its own sub-committee and allowed the PIA management to proceed with the controversial sale of its six Airbus aircraft just for $10.1 million as the PIA chairman said the aircraft were “unsafe.” Two members of the sub-committee, Senators Asif Jatoi and Rukhsana Zuberi, had raised questions about transparency in the sale.

In a note of dissent, opposition senators Farhatullah Babar and Rukhsana Zuberi said, “The sale of six airworthy aircraft for a paltry sum of $10.1 million and leasing of aircraft at 2.2 times higher cost (of $22 million) is not sound judgment and seems to be based on other considerations.”

They said the sale of A300B4 aircraft should be dropped,

as recommended by the

sub-committee, in the national interest and in the interest of taxpayers.

A committee member told Dawn that PIA could have earned millions more by leasing the parts of the airworthy aircraft instead of outright sale.

Senator Zuberi told Dawn that $2 million GPS system was installed on the aircraft being sold by PIA and if one engine could be leased for $1.2 million, the corporation could have earned much more by exercising other options.

She said the MNG company, the highest bidder of $10.1 million, had already done test flights of the A300B4 aircraft. If MNG finds A300B4 safe to fly, what stopped PIA from doing the same or turning them to freighter duties, she asked.

She said PIA was on record with the Senate that with the retirement of A300B4 fleet, the corporation will certainly require to wet lease aircraft based on their needs at projected cost of $22 million.

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