ISLAMABAD: Aviation Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique on Friday expressed the hope that the loss-making PIA would be able to resume its flights to the UK in the next three months, following which flights to EU countries and the US would also be restored.

The minister made this announcement on the floor of the National Assembly while responding to a calling attention notice of JI) MNA Maulana Abdul Akbar Chitrali regarding the government’s decision to outsource Islamabad International Airport.

Mr Rafique said that with the “historic legislation” done by the assembly on July 20, the last obstacle in the way of the resumption of the PIA flights to the UK had been removed.

The National Assembly had passed the Pakistan Airports Authority Bill, 2022, and the Pakistan Civil Aviation Bill, 2022, to bifurcate the role of the Civil Aviation Authority — one for regulating civil aviation activities in the country and the other for providing civil aviation services and developing aviation infrastructure.

The minister recalled that the UK and European countries had banned the PIA flights following the “foolish statement” by his predecessor, adding that the national carrier had been facing a loss of Rs70 billion annually due to the suspension of the flights.

In July 2020, the then aviation minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, had stated on the floor of the assembly that some 40 per cent Pakistani pilots possessed “dubious or fake licenses”.

While stressing the need for restructuring and privatisation of PIA, Mr Rafique said, “This is very good news for overseas Pakistanis [that] in the next three months, at least flights to the UK will resume. After that [flights to] the EU and America will also resume.

“My colleagues know me. I was against privatisation. But even a person like me has now realised that if PIA [which is] facing a loss of Rs80 billion this year remains as it is, its loss will balloon to Rs259bn by the year 2030.

“Can Pakistan afford this? No, it can’t. So what should be done? What South African airlines and Air India had done,” he said, citing that Tata Group in India had recently placed an order for acquiring 450 aircraft for Air India. On the other hand, he said, PIA only had some 27 or 28 operational aircraft. With this fleet, he said, they could not compete with powerful airlines of Gulf countries.

The minister was of the opinion that it was not the state’s job to run airlines. The state, he said, could only ensure that no PIA employee should be rendered jobless.

Mr Rafique also disclosed a plan to convert PIA into a holding company. He said Rs742bn loan liability and all the properties owned by PIA would be transferred to this company. At the same time, the minister warned that if PIA was not restructured, it could face a shutdown in the next one and a half years.

Outsourcing for 15 years

The aviation minister forcefully defended the government’s move to outsource the country’s three major airports, explaining that Islamabad’s airport would be outsourced for 15 years.

“The navigational services and runway operations will not be outsourced. The CAA will continue to do it,” he said while assuring the house that no employee of the CAA would be rendered jobless.

The International Finance Corporation (IFC), a World Bank offshoot, was the government’s consultant on the matter, he said, disclosing that some 12 to 13 companies had shown interest in taking over the Islamabad airport.

He reiterated that outsourcing didn’t mean that the airport was being sold or mortgaged, or that anyone would be made jobless.

Published in Dawn, July 22nd, 2023

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