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December 05, 2012

IT is not headline news that PIA is a troubled carrier. Yet rather than addressing the problems, the national flag carrier’s management seems to excel at covering up its inadequacies with a variety of excuses. One of these, as the Supreme Court was told on Monday during a hearing on allegations of corruption within PIA, is that the airline is in bad shape because foreign carriers are ‘poaching’ its customers. The court was told that while foreign airlines have been given liberal traffic rights in Pakistan, other countries have not reciprocated. If this is the case, then the government needs to pursue the matter so that PIA and other Pakistani carriers are given equal access to foreign destinations, just as international carriers enjoy access to Pakistani airports. However, to blame foreign carriers for the airline’s woes is not acceptable. Simply put, competition is good for the consumer; flyers will choose whichever carriers will get them from point A to point B safely, on time and in relative comfort for an affordable fare. If PIA can meet these specifications, there’s no reason why it cannot compete with foreign airlines.

The flag carrier’s woes are well-documented. These include financial mismanagement, overstaffing, an ageing, creaky fleet and allegations of corruption. It has become increasingly common to come across reports of close calls and mishaps involving PIA aircraft. The most recent incident was on Sunday, in which a PIA jumbo sat at the Karachi airport for several hours reportedly due to engine trouble. The story of PIA is indeed a tragic one. From flying high in the years after independence and once considered among the world’s top airlines, today, the carrier is a moribund shadow of its former self. This is an airline which helped set up other carriers and trained their staff, yet now it is gasping for air, dependent on government bailouts for survival. Mismanagement is the single biggest factor behind the decline. If the airline can be restructured and run by a professional, honest set of managers who give priority to aircraft safety and customer service, perhaps PIA can cruise to a more comfortable altitude.