LAHORE - Due to shrinking number of passengers, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) had to cancel more than 28 planned pre-Ramazan extra section flights for Umra in July. The national flag carrier has yet to announce dedicated extra section for the holy month of Ramazan, which has always been a bonanza for the airline. According to the travelling agencies, most of the passengers are now opting to other airlines, like Emirates and Etihad, only for the reason that they are offering better and competitive fares and group packages. It is worth mentioning that on average the PIA is charging Rs10,000 more from each passenger for a return ticket to Saudia Arabia, as compared to other airlines that offer additional benefits including one free ticket for a group travel of 5. Similarly, sales of tickets in Saudi Arabia sponsored by expatriates for their families back home have also declined sharply. Industry sources say of late some cronies, who have had no experience in airline sales business and have maneuvered to get key assignments, have dominated PIAs marketing. Most of these gentlemen are from flight operations, traffic or even engineering. Fares were first jacked up on the recommendation of these new marketing executives in the hope that passengers will be forced to pay, not realising that PIA no longer has a monopoly. In addition to offering non-competitive fares, giving preferential quotas to few errant travel agents, who in the past have been over-charging Umra pilgrims, has further aggravated PIAs declining revenues in a market that has remained its backbone over decades. Having lost the passengers share, PIA has now come up with comparable revised fares, but the damage has already been done as people desirous of performing Umra are now the customers of other airlines. The airline has lost out despite it offered direct flights, all due to mismanagement and curse of cronyism and nepotism. The busy Umra schedule, starting about 50 days before Ramazan, in the past has witnessed PIA flying regular direct extra section flights to Madina in addition to Jeddah. This year has been very unusual, with sharp declines in passenger on the route that contributes almost 30 per cent of the total revenue. It is said that the number of passengers PIA scheduled flights from Karachi like PK 731 have experienced a dip of 55 per cent in the peak period of July. In 2008, the PIA earned a profit of Rs 3.153 bn on its scheduled Saudi Arabian flights, with a total revenue generation of Rs 19.402 bn as against a cost of Rs 16.248 billion. The national airline operated a total of 1785 scheduled flights. The Haj operation comprised of 966 flights, with revenue generation of Rs 11 bn and profits amounting to Rs 870 m. Meanwhile, a PIA spokesman has maintained that the airline had cancelled no flights and poor passengers load was only because of stringent Umra policy of Saudi Arabia. He was of the view that KSA had issued fewer visas to the Umra aspirants and also imposed age limits for the Haj pilgrims, which might result in lesser number of Haj pilgrims this year. He claimed that despite various hurdles, the passenger load had increased by 30 per cent during June in comparison with the previous year.