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Another notorious entity landed into court this week, probably because of Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry himself. According to a report, “Already in the headlines for all wrong reasons, PIA again came under the flak on Monday when counsel Khalid Anwar requested the court to take a suo motu notice of the pathetic state of affairs in the airline. The request was made against the backdrop of Sunday’s incident when an Islamabad-bound PIA aircraft developed fault in one of its engines and was stuck at the Karachi airport for hours. The chief justice and some federal ministers were among the passengers.”

The report says, “The Pakistan International Airlines bemoaned in the Supreme Court on Monday that the unilateral grant of liberal traffic rights to foreign airlines was one of the reasons for the national flag carrier’s decline. It said Pakistan had become a lifeline for foreign carriers, mainly from the Gulf region, which were sucking away the resources of Pakistan (Pakistani passengers). The report regretted that foreign airlines had been increasing their capacity on Pakistan routes because of the facility of liberal traffic rights. Successive governments have allowed foreign airlines to fly to and out of the country without offering any reciprocal rights to PIA to fly to their countries.” Is PIA justified in blaming its substandard performance on foreign competition which it can’t seem to come to terms with? What about the unrelenting decline of customer services, which is a major part of the business that is being questioned by the court?

Another recent analysis states, “Pakistan recently allowed five international airlines to begin direct passenger and cargo flights from Sialkot International Airport. Qatar Airways, Fly Dubai, Air Arabia, Etihad Airways and Emirates would start their operations from Sialkot soon. The number of international flights to various foreign destinations from the industrial city will reportedly rise to 45 from the existing 21 in a month.

The business community was thrilled. “The transport costs and the ability to respond to demand swiftly in a fast changing, competitive international market makes or breaks a business. Better connectivity will save local businesses time and money. Siakot will return favour by investing in modernisation of the airport and jacking up efforts to outperform their competitors in the international trade”, Mohammad Azam, a businessman from Sialkot commented.

“Sialkot is a big commercial centre with a motivated business community. The decision is a step in the right direction”, Zubair Motiwala, a known business leader said when reached over telephone.

The ministry that authenticated the government’s decision, however, did not share the euphoria. The ministry of defence, responsible for the aviation industry, detested the move that, it said, was forced on it. It believed the decision compromised national interests.

“People will still be happier if you allow them to travel free but would you do that?” a senior officer in the ministry asked when contacted in Islamabad for comments. “The sound economic decisions are not necessarily popular”, he answered without waiting for a reply. Why is the ministry not inclined to favour ‘sound economic decisions’? Why is fair and productive competition being regarded as detrimental? Could the fact that a self-absorbed ministry (that has too much on its plate in the first place) been given control of the aviation industry is proving out to be a disastrous decision?

With only three Pakistani airlines in the market, that seem are ever ready to be in the headlines for all the wrong reasons, what possible options are left for improvements in Pakistan’s aviation industry?