KARACHI, Sept 26: More than 190 flights of Pakistan International Airlines have been affected — cancelled, delayed or rerouted — between Aug 15 and Sept 20 due to mechanical problems in aircraft, it emerged on Monday.

Over 125 flights were delayed up to 21 hours, more than 15 rerouted and over 50 cancelled during the past five weeks for want of aircraft repairs, said sources.

A PIA spokesperson, however, cited safety as the prime concern of the national flag carrier and claimed that if any problem emerged, such planes were immediately taken to the workshop until they became airworthy.

According to the sources, more than five and a half flights are affected on a daily basis on an average. Of them, 3.5 are delayed, 1.5 cancelled everyday while one flight is rerouted on alternate days.

The sources said that the maximum number of cancelled flights, i.e. more than 35, involved ATRs planes — the latest induction in the national flag carrier’s ageing fleet.

Similarly, they added, ATRs and B737s were involved in the delay of over 25 and 35 flights, respectively.

More than two dozens PIA flights were affected (delayed or cancelled) on a single day, the sources said. Ten flights were cancelled, 10 others delayed and four rerouted while one aircraft was hit by a bird on Sept 16, they added.

Two days later a PIA flight was delayed by more than 21 hours because of aircraft maintenance. The flight PK769 (Islamabad-Paris) was scheduled to fly at 9am on Sept 18, but it actually left the airport at 6am the following day, the sources said. They explained that the delay was caused by the change of aircraft AP-BHV (B773), which was sent for maintenance, with AP-BGY (B777).

The sources said that many aircraft developed faults during flight. In one such incident, an engine of ATR (AP-BHJ) shut down while the aircraft was on its way from Karachi to Turbat (flight PK501) on Sept 3. Subsequently, emergency was declared and the aircraft immediately returned. During initial inspection, it was found that its propeller (No 1) failed to rotate clockwise and there were pieces of metal in jet pipe.

Responding to Dawn queries, PIA spokesperson Mashhood Tajwar said that the latest aircraft in the airline’s fleet, the ATRs, which were inducted a few years back, were having engine problems.

He said that after consultations and discussions, the manufacturers had reduced engine overhauling limit from 15,000 to 5,000 flight hours especially when the planes were flown in hot and sandy environment. He explained that since most of the aircraft were being used on the routes of Balochistan and the interior of Sindh, which usually had such a climate, they were often sent to the workshop for repairs. The subsequent shortage caused the cancellation of or delays in flights, he added.

He also said that as the Hajj season drew near the airline was sending its aircraft to the workshop for early maintenance and checking so that the Hajj operation would not be disrupted. This again resulted in shortage of aircraft leading to cancellations and delays, he explained.

Also, PIA attached high priority to safety, he said, adding that it would delay a flight rather than send the aircraft for operations by comprising on their airworthiness.

Sources in the PIA engineering department said that the airline was not modernising its fleet and ageing aircraft needed more time on ground for maintenance, which was not available as number of flights had not been reduced.

Currently, the sources said, eight aircraft — two each of ATR, 747, 737 and A310 — were in the workshop for want of maintenance.

They added that since the detention of a PIA aircraft in France on safety concerns, more attention was being paid to details so maintenance of aircraft was taking more time at present than in the past.

They said why PIA was operating so many flights if it did not have sufficient aircraft. Rather than imposing hardships and miseries on its passengers due to frequent cancellations and flight delays, the airline should either acquire more aircraft or reduce its operations, they added.