PIA being demoted to a regional, domestic one

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National carrier converted into a spoke, feeding passengers to Turkish Airline as a hub, for onward travel to USA, Europe

Amraiz Khan

The PDM Minister for Transport recently claimed that two more aircraft which were grounded for a long time will shortly be made serviceable bringing the total aircraft currently in operation to 22 by April 2023.

It merits mentioning here that fleet size of the national flag carrier in 2005 was 42, what needs to be probed is why these aircraft were not made serviceable earlier through proper maintenance and instead the airline wasted money inducting more aircraft on lease. It makes no commercial sense for an airline to keep its own fleet grounded and instead resort to leasing other aircraft. The Federal Government which has been at helm since 2018 cannot be absolved of their role to reduce PIA from an international airline of repute to a regional and domestic airline, now relegated to almost a spoke, feeding passengers to Turkish Airline as a Hub, for onward travel to USA and Europe.

PIA inducted its first B777-200ER in January 2004 and B777-200LR in February 2006. The viability of the Business Plan for purchase of B777 was based on direct long range flights to North American destinations like New York, Chicago, Washington, Houston and Toronto. Gross mismanagement and erroneous technical spareparts procurement deals, along with needless recruitment in violation of merit, have damaged PIA.

This finally had its toll and on March 5, 2007, when all but 9 (B777s) out of 42 aircraft were banned from operation into Europe citing safety concerns, following inspection by EU Air Safety Administrator Federico. On March 26, MD Tariq Kirmani was forced to resign because of an EU ban. After four months on July 5, 2007, eleven aircraft (5 B747-300 and 6 A310) were exempted from ban following remedial Corrective Action Plan. By November 29, 2007, the EU completely removed the ban. Compare this, to ban imposed by EASA in May 2020 which remains in force even in 2023, because of incompetence by CAA Pakistan and PIA management at helm for their failure to implement mutually agreed Corrective Action Plan and CAA Pakistan to submit to Safety Audit by EASA to convince them that it has the capability and professional expertise to perform its regulatory functions.

This precipitated after the PTI Minister for Aviation made an irresponsible statement on the floor of NA. The cancer of incompetence, fake degrees and corruption in the executive corridors of PIA management reached its zenith in 2008 onwards when PPP government handed reins of national airline to its cronies including Nadeem Yusafzai, a B777 pilot, to Imran Ahmed Khan, another political appointee, who was directly inducted into PIA Duty Free Shops, a profitable subsidiary, which became bankrupt. Thereafter, it has been a downhill for national flag carrier. The choice of an octogenarian as head of BOD, has reduced it to a mere rubber stamp role, instead of keeping an oversight. Fate of PIA Investments can be gauged from the fact that Hotel Roo sevelt in NYC has been shut down for three years. Air Marshal Nur Khan was the main architect of PIA Investment and acquisition of Hotel Roosevelt, which were to serve as a backup for the national airline, instead of becoming a liability, courtesy gross mismanagement and financial irregularities.

The manner in which Open Skies policy was implemented by former PM Nawaz ignoring the commercial interests of PIA has only eroded the market share of all Pakistan registered airlines. Air traffic rights between nations are always negotiated through bilateral agreements without compromising the market share of national airlines. Foreign airlines remit passenger and cargo revenue sales from expatriate Pakistan through ticket sales within Pakistan and abroad directly to the country of their origin.

This unbridled permission to foreign airlines has dealt a double jeopardy to Pakistan both in terms of market share and a drain on foreign exchange reserves. In 2017 PIA total serviceable fleet had decreased to 31 from over 42 aircraft in 2005. With 12 B777, 15 A320 and 4 ATR it was operating almost 100 flights daily to over 25 international destinations across Asia, Europe, Middle East and across the Atlantic to North America and 18 domestic destinations. PIA started a premier service with a lot of fanfare to the UK in 2016 with two leased A330-300 from Air Lanka which from the very onset was destined to be commercially not viable, because of the high cost of leasing and gross mismanagement.

The Business Plan was tailor made to justify induction of this aircraft to appease former PM Nawaz. PIA’s own fleet of B777 with dismal aircraft interior and a malfunctioning Inflight System all due to mismanagement were no match to giants like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar, etc. It seems the only way to salvage PIA from ruins and a liability on national exchequer is to privatize it on the pattern of Air India.