The stand-off between Pakistan International (PIA) and the Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (PALPA) has continued for the fourth straight day - with over 55 flights cancelled up till now. With this list is expected to increase with time, thousands of passengers who have paid good money and trusted the national carrier continue to be stranded, including several Hajj pilgrims waiting to return home.

PIA has extended an official invitation to PALPA to sit down for negotiations. Even with a delegation sent, the strike however, will continue during this time with passengers continuing to suffer the consequences of cancelled flights. According to PALPA, disruptions from their side are because the management has inducted more air crafts, than it has trained airmen to fly them and are unable to manage scheduling properly. They have also accused PIA of resorting to favouritism when it comes to deciding which pilot would take flights or who should be sent for training. Few pilots have also been grounded as revenge.

The PIA has however remained adamant that the new demands by pilots are putting pressure on the government’s already burdened finances. Senior pilots are receiving over Rs 1.5 million per month in salaries, with the government already spending over Rs 3 billion per annum for pilots’ benefits and facilities. They have claimed PALPA has become a threat to the national carrier and is responsible for financial losses to the nation by dictating their personal agenda to the national airline and the State of Pakistan. Moreover, for PIA, they have deliberately disregarded the flight safety rules and regulations, which are made for the “safety of passengers travelling by air, people on the ground and valuable national assets (aircraft)”

PIA’s management has laid the blame on its pilots for creating the crisis, while PALPA on the other hand has accused the airline’s management of inefficiency and mismanagement. Amid the blame game, the ultimate losers have been the passengers, especially those who are currently at foreign ports waiting to return home but are now in dire straits because of cancelled flights. One can question the seriousness and callousness regarding both these institutions – ones that are bickering despite knowing the dire consequences. PALPA is the strongest of about half a dozen major unions, which represent 18,000 employees of PIA. Time and again the association has led protests against management on issues of salaries, out-of-turn promotions to more serious matters like code-share agreements with other airlines. It is high time that they set up a more congruent and long-lasting deal with PIA, one that does not disrupt services for days.