Updated Dec 02, 2017 04:38pm

THE CASE OF THE CASH COWS

Ahmed Yusuf

The hallmark of Bernd Hildenbrand’s tenure as the chief executive officer of the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was to induct new planes into the national flag carrier’s fleet as he went about modernising infrastructure in the airlines.

One of the services started by Hildenbrand was the Premier Service — a deluxe way to travel to London with three aircrafts acquired on a wet-lease from Sri Lankan Airlines. Six flights were scheduled for London every week, three each from Islamabad and Lahore. Unlike the regular service, the Premier aircraft was equipped with LCD screens and an expensive in-flight entertainment system with 250 channels. Business-class passengers could sleep on flat beds to make their journey more comfortable. The service was inaugurated by former Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif on August 14, 2016.

Although 3.9 billion rupees were spent on launching the service, even its experimental stage was not well thought-out. For example, the airfare for the premium service was not increased while there was just one aircraft doing the rounds and no other backup aircraft was readied. Instead a substantial cost was incurred on specialised crew, new crew uniforms, as well as new logo and branding.

The Premier Service bagged 1.8 billion rupees in revenue between August 14, 2016 and December 31, 2016, according to statistics revealed by the Aviation Division at the time. The losses incurred in the same period were 2.1 billion rupees.

But perhaps the bigger scam was elsewhere.

The new service offered a complimentary limousine for business-class passengers, anywhere within a radius of 25 km from the London Heathrow. The usual cost for such a distance is 45 pounds but PIA were paying 95 pounds for each business class passenger.

There were 25 business class seats in the PIA Premier aircraft. And so the amount paid to the limousine vendor for one trip to London was 2,375 pounds. With six flights in a week, the weekly payment to the vendor was 9,500 pounds and the monthly amounts to 38,000 pounds or 5,282,000 rupees.

Here’s the twist: the limousine vendor was the third brother of former ISI chief Rizwan Akhtar and PIA Procurement Director Imran Akhtar.

Another case of dubious intent is that of a Boeing 777 aircraft which was acquired to fly on international routes. When inducted into the fleet, the 777 plane’s original seats needed to removed and new ones installed, as per PIA’s seats requirements. Elahi’s PIA engaged with a foreign company for the job, deeming it undoable in Pakistan. This raised many eyebrows but according to PIA spokesman Mashood Tajwar, the dispute is over the number of planes being re-hauled by the company.

Well-placed sources claim that payment of a couple of billion rupees was made in advance — against the rules and without a bank guarantee — for the job that was yet to be carried out. The job never got done, claim insiders, also alleging that a substantial amount returned to Pakistan in kickbacks.

The writer is a member of staff.
He tweets @ASYusuf

Published in Dawn, EOS, November 26th, 2017

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