by Amraiz Khan and Talha Makhdoom 

LAHORE/KARACHI: The private airlines are looting passengers with both hands by increasing their fares up to 100 percent, but Civil Aviation Authority, Security Exchange Commission of Pakistan and Competition Commission of Pakistan are keeping mum mysteriously, said a senior officer of CAA yesterday.

He said passengers were already paying increased fare to PIA despite reasonable decrease in fuel prices during 2015. “The first three quarters’ reports reflect that from January to September 2015, fuel cost of PIA was Rs 21.678 billion while during the corresponding period of 2014, it was Rs 37.839. In this way PIA spent Rs 16.2 billion less during 2015 than that of 2014 on fuel, but the airline management did not pass on any relief to its passengers,” he revealed.

Around 12 million passengers travel every year to and from Pakistan of whom 24 percent take the services of PIA. This ratio is 55 percent on domestic routes while growth rate of these passengers is 7 to 8 percent. A senior officer of CAA said it was responsibility of the state, CAA, CCP and SECP to provide affordable, safe and reliable travel to their passengers.

A spokesman for PIA said the airline had finalised arrangements with Air Blue to accept PIA’s confirmed-ticket passengers for flights to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Dubai, Muscat, Jeddah and Riyadh. Arrangements have also been finalised with Shaheen Air to accept PIA’s confirmed-seat passengers for domestic flights.

Similarly, passengers having PIA’s confirmed tickets at any international destination may also contact the airline staff in their respective countries for conversion of their tickets. They would also be adjusted in various international airlines. These steps have been taken to facilitate passengers being affected by the strike.

When contacted, spokesman for Civil Aviation Authority, Pervez George, said though it was duty of CCP to maintain fares at an appropriate level, the authority was closely monitoring the situation.He said the CAA had asked passengers to purchase tickets direct from the airline’s office travel agents, instead of buying from travel agents avoid illegal profiteering.

“We have warned the airlines involved in overcharging to keep their fare prices at an appropriate level,” the spokesman concluded.The PIA Employees Union at Karachi, despite strict warnings from the federal authorities, shut down all units of the national flag carrier in protest against its proposed privatisation and killing of fellow workers.

Their strike has already caused a loss of over Rs 1 billion to the national flag carrier while the federal government has entered into agreements with other airlines to accommodate the PIA passengers who have already got their flights booked. PIA spokesperson Daniyal Gilani, while talking to The Nation, confirmed that more than 250 scheduled flights of the national flag carrier had been cancelled, resulting in loss of around Rs one billion from February 2 to February 4.

He further said PIA had finalised arrangement with three private airlines , including Air Blue, Shaheen Air and Etihad Airways, to facilitate the passengers affected by the strike, adding Air Blue had accepted PIA’s confirmed-ticket passengers for flights to Karachi, Islamabad, Lahore, Dubai, Muscat, Jeddah and Riyadh.

PIA has also finalised arrangements with Shaheen Air to accept its confirmed-ticket passengers for domestic flights. Passengers can contact PIA’s service counters at airports to convert their tickets to the private airline. Similarly, the passengers having PIA’s confirmed tickets at any international destination can also contact its staff in their respective countries for conversion of their tickets. They would also be adjusted in various international airlines.

Gilani further stated that PIA’s arrangement with Etihad Airways had been also finalised. “Now the passengers having confirmed PIA tickets would be able to travel by Etihad Airways after endorsement from PIA’s local offices”. On the other hand, the airline employees not in mode to call off the strike before the acceptance of their demands despite invitation for dialogue by State Minister for Privatisation Muhammad Zubair. The protesting employees continued the protest on the third consecutive day (yesterday).

During the day they offered funeral prayers for the deceased employees in absentia at the Karachi airport, besides staging a sit-in against the government over the proposed privatisation of the national flag carrier.  Meanwhile, Joint Action Committee Chairman Captain Sohail Baloch said the employees wanted an impartial inquiry by a judicial commission into the killing of their fellows in mysterious firing. Appreciating the announcement by the Rangers DG to form a committee to probe the incident, Baloch demanded immediate formation of a judicial commission to investigate the killing.

He dispelled the impression that underhanded tactics would damage the unity of the Joint Action Committee, adding senior members of the Air League were also present in the protest.

The spokesperson for Joint Action Committee, Nasrullah, confirmed to The Nation that the office bearers had submitted an application for registration of an FIR after orders from a court. JAC has urged the police to lodge a case against Federal Information Minister Pervaiz Rasheed, Senator Mushahidullah Khan, Aviation Adviser Shujaat Azeem, Aviation Secretary Irfan Elahi, Privatisation State Minister Muhammad Zubair and others. Nasrullah further said police had assured the JAC of handing over a copy of the FIR tomorrow (Friday). To a question about the footage of the suspected attacker released by Rangers, Nasarullah said they didn’t know whether he was an attacker or not. Separately, a Rangers spokesperson said the investigation team had started its job. He asked citizens to help the team in identifying the suspect.