LAHORE- Pakistan Peoples’ Party which has been pursuing a consistent policy of non-privatization has called for an end to ‘open sky policy of 1992’ and opening of profitable routes to end the current fiasco in the national flag carrier.    

It thinks there is no need to privatize the national airline which can be made a profitable organization provided the government takes a few key steps. 

“Induct new planes, open all profitable routes, do away with the open sky policy and use small planes for domestic flights”, head of Peoples Labour Bureau of the PPP, Ch Manzoor summed up his party’s recipe to avoid privatization of the PIA. He insisted the formula is workable if the government is sincere to implement.

The current showdown between the PIA trade unions and the government over latter’s plans to privatize the airline has forced the management to suspend its operations leaving hundreds of passengers stranded at the airports. The government intends to disband the present airline to replace it with a new one in the private sector to be run allegedly by its front men. 

How can the cash-starved airline purchase new planes when it is bearing the brunt of over Rs 235 billion debt? The Nation asked the PPP man who is a known defender of workers’ rights in the state-owned institutions.  

“It is easily doable. PIA owns properties worth billions of dollars abroad. 

It owns Roosevelt Hotel in New York having 1026 rooms and 22 luxury suites for head of states, Scribe Hotel in France with 600 rooms besides properties at London, Milan and other places. New planes can be purchased against these assets by pledging them with banks and operated on profitable routes which have been closed due to non-availability of planes”, he argued.    

Besides, he added, employees were willing to allow the PIA management to use their Rs 40 billion gratuity deposits for the purpose of purchasing new planes by pledging the amount with the banks.

  Sources in the national flag carrier said that the airline had closed its profitable routes on foreign destinations in Gulf, Germany, Spain and other countries mainly owing to mismanagement and lack of planes. These routes were made available to other airlines which are making profits, they said, adding that this policy of abandonment created the issue of surplus staff in the PIA. 

About the issue of over-staffing, Manzoor said that it would be over automatically once the new planes are inducted. “At present the staff is surplus because the airline has not enough planes in its fleet. Extra staff can be attached with the new planes”, he affirmed.

Currently, the PIA is doing with only 38 small and big planes for domestic and foreign flights. On the average, around 500 employees in different grades are attached with one airplane as against the standard strength of 150. 

PPP’s labour leader further stated that PIA was using big planes on domestic routes which not only reduced the cycle life of a long range plane, it also put extra financial burden on the airline.  “Small planes consume less fuel compared to big ones. The fuel consumption of a big plane which takes off from Karachi and lands at Lahore is equal to its consumption from Karachi to Gulf or London. A plane consumes little fuel once it is in the air while the consumption at the time of take-off and landing is the maximum”, he informed.  

Manzoor said that the government had the intention to bear the PIA debt amounting to Rs 235 billion to set up a new airline. “The PIA would be running on profit from today if the government owns the debt as the interest on this amount is preventing the national flag carrier to run on profit.

He asserted that ‘Open Sky Policy of 1992’ should be done away with to save the national airline. “International Airlines should not be allowed to take passengers from profitable destinations like Lahore, Karachi and Islamabad. PIA is not allowed by other countries to take new passengers from its stopovers in London and other cities”, he said.   

He said private airlines operating in the country should also be asked to operate planes also on non-profit routes like Gilgit, Chitral etc to reduce the burden on PIA.

Asked why the PPP government did not implement this formula when it was in power from 2008 to 2013, he replied that it wanted to execute it but its finance ministers, Mr Shaukat Tareen and Hafiz Sheikh created bureaucratic hurdles for vested interests. “Former President Asif Ali Zardari had asked them to purchase new planes and to open the closed routes but they deferred the plan on one pretext or the other”.

Manzoor alleged that PML-N government was planning to purchase PIA through its front men under the garb of privatization as it did in case of MCB.