KARACHI: In what appears to be a vague attempt to allay concerns about the likely shifting of the head office of the national flag carrier from Karachi, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) said on Monday that the transfer of its employees to Islamabad did not “by any way [means] transferring the airline’s head office”.
Pilots, cabin crews, engineers and dozens of other staffs working at the PIA head office and settled in the provincial metropolis for decades have been transferring to Islamabad ever since Air Marshal Arshad Malik took control of the national carrier as its chief executive.
The arbitrary transfers generated a rumour that the new management wanted to shift the airline’s head office from Karachi to Islamabad.
On May 13, the Senate had adopted a resolution with a majority vote opposing the alleged relocation of the PIA head office from Karachi to Islamabad. Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan, however, opposed the resolution, fuelling speculation that the government wanted to shift the head office in the near future.
Amid an air of uncertainty, the PIA management finally came up with a response on Monday and clarified that the national carrier was not “transferring” its headquarters, but it had plans to make the new Islamabad International Airport as the “airline’s hub”.
“The PIA is not shifting its head office but moving fast to implement and achieve economic viability as envisaged in the airline’s business plan,” said a PIA spokesman.
“The management is reorganising its human resources to utilise them more efficiently and effectively. In doing so, it is re-positioning its employees to different stations throughout Pakistan. The management is in the process of transferring its employees to Islamabad and other stations wherever required to cope up with the workload, demand potential and future prospects,” the spokesman added.
While the spokesman said that the PIA “operates 22 flights per week to European destinations from Islamabad as compared to two from Karachi”, he did not mention the reasons as to why the national carrier chose to operate more flights from a much small city and neglected the fact that many foreign airlines are still operating more flights from Karachi.
Also, senior Pakistan Peoples Party leader Senator Sherry Rehman had told the Senate on May 13 that air traffic in Islamabad had not increased to the extent that it had in Karachi. “The government is crippling Pakistan’s commercial hub because it lacks political control there. It is taking Karachi’s flights and re-routing them to Islamabad, it is trying to strip Karachi of its commercial base, of its roots, of its power to hold PIA in a commercial centre,” she had said.
In what appeared to be an attempt to build their case in favour of Islamabad, the spokesman said: “The New Islamabad airport, which is now the largest airport of country, is a great opportunity for PIA to further enhance its network as majority of the international flights operate from the north region.
“There exists more potential to be explored and revenue generated by making Islamabad Airport as the airline’s hub while generating additional business with focused attention from other major cities of country,” he claimed.
He said that the PIA planned to increase flight frequencies on profitable routes and planning new destinations purely on commercial viability.
“The airline is trying all-out efforts to start non-stop flights to the United States making it a viable business route rather than the previous route via Manchester which was incurring high costs.
“[In view of] the recent initiative of the Saudi government to have direct immigration access at the Islamabad Airport for the forthcoming Haj season, more personnel will be required at Islamabad airport. To strengthen the flight operation from Islamabad it is being equipped with required manpower,” he added.
“This is not by any way transferring the airline’s head office rather HR [human resources] adjustments from within for the betterment of the airline. However, the management considers the grievances of employees if any with genuine reason,” the spokesman concluded.
Published in Dawn, June 25th, 2019