It is a great pity that Pakistan International Airlines that was at one time considered the embodiment of excellence has persistently been on the slide downhill for quite some time. The incident on Sunday when one of the four engines of the plane that was ready to take off from Karachi for Islamabad did not start and the flight had to be delayed for over two hours was certainly not the first one; almost every other day some report of a mishap or a near mishap keeps coming in, tarnishing its image and making travel by it a hazardous journey. The latest incident has received widespread public and media attention because the plane was carrying a number of important personalities among the 402 passengers on board who had to disembark. These VIPs included Chief Justice Iftikhar Muhammad Chaudhry, Federal Minister Maula Bux Chandio, two parliamentarians and several others VIPs. Defence Minister Naveed Qamar took notice of the incident and called an emergency meeting of top PIA official to do a detailed briefing about it. No doubt, the airlines’ representatives are right when they say that such faults do occur with other airlines as well and once they are rectified the flight is safe and the incidents hardly find mention in the newspapers. But what they do not take into account is a long tally of such happenings in the case of the national carrier that accounts for frequent faults, disruptions of flight schedule and delays and, thus, the hue and cry becomes inevitable.

It needs recalling here that as PIA was launched not long after the establishment of Pakistan, it shot into instant fame and came to be regarded as one of the five best airlines of the world. It would not be wrong to say that PIA played a big role in introducing Pakistan to the world and raising its prestige. It used to be a coveted flight to board and would live up to its slogan, “Great people to fly with”. Be it the flight crew, the passengers’ comfort, the quality of refreshments and the service; the standard of cleanliness; the engineering staff; or be it punctuality; it was hard to find fault with PIA; all about the airlines was first rate.

Things began to deteriorate as meritocracy was replaced with political influence and, as with other institutions like the Steel Mills and the Railways, favourites were inducted both in top positions and lower cadres, even abnormally raising the staff-to-flight ratio. The professionals were disillusioned and left for other airlines to serve and incompetence and inefficiency became the order of the day. Corruption in deals of planes and spare parts took firm roots. The national carrier has turned into a money guzzler, running into an annual loss of billions. One hopes that the authorities would realise the work earnestly to set things right not only in PIA, but also in other institutions that have also fallen on bad days.