ISLAMABAD: Questioning a demand by the Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (PIAC) for an annual financial support of $40 million for continuing its flight operations, the federal government informed the Supreme Court on Tuesday that it had provided the national flag carrier Rs114 billion since 2018.

Through its counsel Raja Salman Akram, PIA had sought the $40m financial support, as well as court’s permission to immediately recruit 250 employees since the 2018 SC restriction on new appointments was hurting the organisation and resulting in an increase in average age of employees to 45.2 years.

A three-judge SC bench, headed by Justice Ijazul Ahsan, was seized with a case relating to national assets, including PIA, being sold at throwaway prices.

The apex court was also told that the National Accountability Bureau (NAB) had closed a case against former special adviser to the prime minister on aviation Shujaat Azeem since being employed on an honourary basis he did not receive any salary or enjoy perks during his stint.

Airline seeks SC permission to immediately recruit 250 employees

The court ordered deletion of his name from the list of respondents in the NAB case.

PIAC informed the court that since 2018 until 2022, approximately 5,793 employees have been separated from the airline through retirements, resignations, voluntary separation scheme, early retirement and dismissal on discipline or possessing fake degrees.

As a result, PIAC is facing an acute shortage of manpower of professional and skilled employees in flight operations, services, information technology, finance, etc.

The government asked PIAC to show from which departments employees were separated and demanded a complete organogram of each department reflecting vacancies.

PIAC sought a week’s time from the court to justify the recruitment of 250 fresh employees.

Referring to PIA’s demand for $40m annual support, the government expressed its surprise by asking whether the airline needs expensive offices abroad when most of the tickets were purchased online and questioning what sales have been booked through PIAC offices abroad in a year.

The government also asked PIAC to explain in how many countries the airline operates its offices, what rent in dollars it pays to maintain these offices and how many people have been posted in these offices abroad.

“PIAC is a public limited company,” Additional Attorney General Rashdeen Nawaz Kasuri, representing the federal government, said, adding that the organisation must have a corporate and a legal structure and place on record pre- and post-retrenchment organograms to demonstrate vacancies and jobs.

If vacancies exist, PIAC should place on record proposals stating reasons for the manpower required as well as highlight efforts made within the organisational structure to transfer any person to another department on the required position.

The government also asked PIAC to furnish monthly frequency regarding flights, air navigation order, international minimum standards, etc.

In its request, PIAC said the airline had recently made an arrangement for code-sharing with the Turkish Airlines since an increase in frequency of flights will be a key requirement for running operations smoothly.

As an outcome of the code-sharing arrangement, PIAC is projecting annual revenue of Rs205bn for 2023, it contended.

Therefore, it said, fresh induction of manpower is critical to achieve the projected revenue. Besides, it added, the International Air Transport Association has asked PIA for enhancement of fleet and corresponding increase in human resource based on competence.

But the restriction placed by the SC has created deficiency of operational crew and new employees having latest technological-cum-corporate knowledge with contemporary skill set required uplifting the national flag carrier to an era of advancement and innovative strategic commercial operations, PIA argued.

The national flag carrier said it had been able to add four A320 aircraft and one A320 simulator in 2022, adding that 22 weekly flights to the UK and six weekly flights to the European Union could not be added due to suspension of its operations by the European Aviation Safety Agency. But it is expected that after the remote audit, planned for March 7, 2023, operations to these destinations may be resumed.

PIAC contended that international traffic is expected to grow from 10.7m passengers in 2022 to 19.1m in 2026, of which PIA’s market share will be 27 per cent with the major market expansion in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, the United States, Afghanistan, central Asian states, Malaysia and Turkiye.

Therefore, due to an increase in domestic and international passenger traffic, additional pilots and cabin crew will be required to manage the increased flight operations, PIAC pleaded.

Published in Dawn, January 11th, 2023

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