• Over 75 flights scheduled for Sunday cancelled as PSO cuts supply
• Spokesperson claims operation ‘partially restored’ as four international flights depart late at night
• Employees’ rep sees airline’s ‘destruction’ as part of ‘planned conspiracy’

RAWALPINDI: Once a profitable entity and the pride of a nation, the national flag carrier’s fortunes plummeted to an all-time low on Sunday, when its operations ground to a halt yet again, due to a lack of fuel.

While Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), suffering losses to the tune of Rs750 billion, is no stranger to recurring crises, the current situation is probably the most dire in recent years as 77 flights were cancelled on Sunday after Pakistan State Oil (PSO) cut the carrier’s fuel supply.

This was the second time in less than seven days that the two state entities have come face to face with each other. PSO claims mounting unpaid dues as the reason for not providing fuel to PIA aircraft.

The national carrier had 81 flights — 52 international and 29 on domestic routes — scheduled for take-off on Sunday. However, all but four international flights were cancelled, according to a spokesperson.

The airline confirmed that domestic and international flights have been cancelled following the suspension of fuel supply by the PSO.

Flights from Lahore to Toronto and Kuala Lumpur, and from Islamabad to Beijing and Istanbul took off on Sunday, the spokesperson said.

In a late-night development, the spokesman said flight operation was partially restored, and flights to Jeddah departed from Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore and Multan.

He added that another flight also departed from Islamabad for Riyadh.

The PIA’s top management was trying to contact the PSO to get the fuel supply restored, said the spokesperson.

Late on Sunday night, the airline announced that 61 flights were scheduled for Monday (today). Of them, 42 will fly on international routes while 19 on domestic.

The spokesperson has expressed the hope that the scheduled evening flights on Monday would operate as soon as a credit line was made available to pay for the fuel.

The crisis has emerged at a time when the caretaker government is looking to expedite the process of relieving the burden of the bleeding entity.

Last month, a meeting of the Privatisation Commission agreed on a clear timeline for the privatisation of PIA. While no further details were given about the timeline, it was understood that the government wanted to sell off the loss-making state institution as soon as possible.

Situation ‘never this bad’

The widespread flight cancellation left thousands of passengers in distress while PIA employees, who have been witnessing the airline’s crumbling into the abyss, conceded the “situation was never this bad”.

The airline was unable to give the travellers a tentative time of departure as they awaited instructions from the top management.

Some travellers went back home, while others opted to stay at the airport, hoping to fly to their destinations.

The airline has been trying to accommodate the passengers on alternative flights, the spokesperson said, while apologising for the inconvenience caused due to flight cancellations.

A senior pilot stuck in Lahore due to the cancellation of his flight said he had never seen the airline in such dire straits.

There is only one flight scheduled from Lahore to Karachi today, the pilot told Dawn while requesting anonymity.

‘Planned conspiracy’

PIA’s Senior Staff Association General Secretary Safdar Anjum has alleged that the airline is being destroyed “under a planned conspiracy”.

In a series of posts on social media platform X, Mr Anjum bla­med the “incompetent CEO and his team” for the current crisis.

In August, Air Vice Marshal Muhammad Amir Hayat was appointed PIA’s CEO for one year after serving as the acting CEO since April 2022, following the retirement of his predecessor.

“There is only one solution to PIA’s problems,” Mr Anjum wrote in his post, as he demanded that the CEO and his team should be fired.

He claimed the executive was only brought “for the purpose of destroying the airline”.

Talking to Dawn, Mr Anjum said PIA is being destroyed and defamed intentionally to pave the way for its easy privatisation.

PIA is still earning revenue with only 16 aircraft, he said and blamed the former aviation minister for inflicting catastrophic damage on the airline with his statement in the National Assembly.

In June 2020, then-federal minister for aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan claimed more than 30 per cent of the civilian pilots in the country held “fake” licences. He added that 262 out of the 860 active pilots “did not take the exam themselves” and had paid someone else to appear on their behalf.

The statement stirred huge controversy, prompting the European Union Air Safety Agency to suspend PIA’s authorisation to operate in the bloc for six months. The action is yet to be revoked.

According to Mr Anjum, PIA’s flights to profitable UK and Europe routes have been suspended for over three years.

Despite that, the airline has been earning well, he claimed, adding the only burden was bank loans, which could be repaid if management overcomes the financial crisis.

“If the CEO can’t control the situation, he must resign,” Mr Anjum told Dawn.

An aviation expert, however, asserted that PIA’s predicament was solely the result of poor management that emerged as soon as people were hired on deputation by the airline.

Published in Dawn, October 23rd, 2023

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