ISLAMABAD: The Supreme Court was informed on Monday that the national flag carrier had cleared 110 pilots out of the 141 whose licences to fly had been suspended against the backdrop of the fake degrees controversy.
Senior advocate Salman Akram Raja, representing the Pakistan International Airlines, informed a three-judge SC bench headed by Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed that PIA had cleared 110 pilots and cancelled the licences of 15, whereas 14 pilots had been declared to be unfit to fly. A few cases were pending decision, he said.
The information came when Justice Umar Ata Bandial asked what steps were taken by the airline to vet the suspended licences and whether the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was pushing the issue enough to get back the business by verifying the licences.
The SC bench had taken up an appeal moved by PIA Chief Executive Officer Air Marshal Arshad Malik against a Sindh High Court order.
The petitioner had contended in the high court that Arshad Malik was a senior serving officer of Pakistan Air Force (PAF) and his appointment as PIA chief was in utter disregard of the law laid down by the apex court in its Aug 3, 2018 judgement against the appointment of the then CEO.
On Monday, Naeem Bokhari, the counsel for Arshad Malik, told the apex court that his client was no more a PAF officer since he had retired.
On March 18, the Supreme Court had restored Arshad Malik to the post of CEO with full authority.
The SHC had on Dec 23 last year restrained Arshad Malik from functioning as CEO of the national flag carrier.
Naeem Bokhari said the financial health of PIA was in shambles, adding that the airline was also losing cargo business as “our pilots could not land at important destinations like the United States, the United Kingdom and many other countries”.
Chief Justice Gulzar Ahmed, who was heading the three-judge bench, said PIA being a corporate entity should run in a professional manner to survive in a cut-throat competition internationally. “Only the fittest survives in such an environment,” he observed.
When the chief justice observed that if the management wanted to revive PIA it had to focus on foreign destinations to bring back more business, Mr Bokhari explained that the Covid-19 pandemic had also forced a number of airlines around the world to ground their aircraft.
But PIA was grounded much before the advent of Covid-19, quipped Justice Ijaz-ul-Ahsan.
The counsel said the pandemic had added to the problems of PIA manifold, burdening it with a huge loan. He said the management needed time to bring PIA back to its past glory.
Salman Akram Raja said PIA had also launched a voluntary separation scheme under which a number of its staff would be laid off, besides cancelling a Rs750 million entertainment contract awarded to a company.
The SC bench also rejected a report by terming it unsatisfactory and saying the court did not see any betterment.
“This is all eyewash and cosmetic. This is not the way to run the management,” the chief justice observed.
Justice Ahsan wondered why PIA had not furnished business plans in its report when at the last hearing the airline was specifically asked to do so.
At the outset of the hearing, Naeem Bokhari also informed the court that he had been made honourary chairman of Pakistan Television Corporation (PTV) for which he was getting no remuneration at all. “I have also refused the official car or official driver; even coffee and tea for my office come from my own pocket,” he said.
Asked whether he was entitled to private practice after becoming chairman of PTV, Mr Bokhari said he was approaching the Pakistan Bar Council to get clearance in this regard.
“When the corporation was making losses every year, its staff was getting huge salaries worth Rs1.5m per month; even the managing director was getting a salary of Rs2.5m for doing nothing. All of them have been fired,” he said.
Published in Dawn, December 15th, 2020