THIS refers to the editorial ‘Saving PIA’ (Feb 3) which has discussed fresh business plan to make PIA viable. This time the proposal has been made by the International Air Transport Association (IATA). Notwithstanding the fact that IATA is the trade association representing world airlines, it does not operate airlines; its role is to promote safe, regular and economic air transport and not restructuring of airlines.

In case of PIA, it was a self-created disaster when ‘open sky policy’ was introduced in 1992 without protecting the interests of the national carrier. Liberal rights were granted to states in the Gulf and it was the beginning of a financial crisis for PIA, which subsequently suffered a loss of Rs107 billion in one year.

A new aviation policy adopted in 2015 that was in continuation of the open sky policy hit our own airline hard and proved fatal as most of the lucrative international routes were handed over to foreign airlines. This ill-advised step brought PIA’s downfall.

The major issue was shortage of aircraft and not the excessive manpower which was not addressed, and, instead, people in the higher grade were inducted. PIA had 550 employees per aircraft (now reduced to 260) perhaps the highest, whereas Turkish Airlines had the lowest; 94 employees. We had a fleet of 29 aircraft with 16,500 employees, now reduced to 8,156 after introducing voluntary separation scheme, fake certificates and disciplinary actions.

Every government shows keenness in restructuring the airline, different plans are discussed, but then it all ends up in reducing staff in lower grades, cutting down certain allowances, etc.

There is no dearth of traffic from Pakistan or people coming to Pakistan. Private airlines are doing roaring business. A number of airlines are taking away our business because we have no aircraft.

With one ministerial statement about pilots holding fake licences virtually ruined the national airline, the reputation of our pilots and image of the country at large. Interestingly, most of our pilots have been cleared.

Various global safety boards have downgraded the national carrier’s rating over aviation safety risks, and several countries have grounded Pakistani pilots. As per reports, the government has decided to revive the airline by further reducing employees and adding a few aircraft.

PIA has already handed over rights to foreign airlines which are busy in minting money. Lately, we have allowed a British airline to start flights between Pakistan and the United Kingdom, and that means further loss to PIA, depriving it of legitimate foreign exchange earnings that are badly needed.

PIA incurred a loss of Rs34.6bn in the 2020 fiscal; the losses were heavier in 2019; Rs56.3bn. Many now believe that PIA is being intentionally brought to a standstill to pave the way for restructuring by IATA. This is like allowing out heart surgery to be carried out by a dental surgeon. If this happens, it will be a recipe for disaster.

Lt-Col (retd) Mukhtar Ahmed Butt
Karachi

Published in Dawn, February 18th, 2022

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