For 35 years since Independence, Civil Aviation was run as an attached department of the ministry of Defence. By 1982, it had become amply clear that remote control exercised by the slow acting bureaucracy had utterly failed to keep up with the needs of a rapidly advancing International Civil Aviation. As a result, on December 7, 1982, Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was created as an autonomous entity, so as to make rapid progress “With minimum of bureaucratic control”. I, as a serving Air Marshal, was deputed to the newly created CAA, as its first Director General.

At the time, Civil Aviation was a total mess. Major airports were woefully inadequate to handle jumbo jets. The smaller domestic airports did not even have the essential air traffic control system, nor fire-fighting vehicles or ambulances. Thus, the very life of passengers was at stake if any emergency were to arise. The overall air traffic control system was out-dated and out-moded, unable to effectively control the entire Air space resulting many a time in near collisions among the Aircraft plying in our Air space. There was no radar at Karachi, the most congested air space, with main activity going on at night. Thus, disaster was waiting to happen. The revenue was a mere 18 crore - augmented by the Federal Govt by another 18 crore from the tax-payer money. Even then it was totally inadequate to make-up the existing deficiencies. A newly built terminal at Karachi Airport had collapsed, replaced by tents! There were no training facility worth the name nor any career planning for employees. The pay and emoluments were totally inadequate, resulting in low morale of the Civil Aviation personnel.

After taking over, my top priority was to get a new terminal built in the shortest possible time and to make up the critical deficiencies both at the Airports and in the Air traffic control system to ensure safety of Aircraft and facilitation of passengers.

The new terminal was built in a record time of eight months and inaugurated by the President of Pakistan. The old unserviceable radar at Karachi Airport was made operational and a stand by radar was added, “gratis” by the courtesy of Admiral Elgin - an Ex. Naval fighter pilot - the boss of FAA. ILS’S and DVORS which provide guidance for navigation, approach and landing were installed at major Airports. All the Domestic Airports were equipped with proper Air traffic control systems alongwith fire fighting vehicles and ambulances. Higher management was stream-lined. The number of Directors at the head office was reduced from fourteen to six. Five zonal managers (one at each province and centre) were instituted to help monitor developmental activities and also to help the Airport managers for proper management of the Airports, in their respective areas. The existing 22 Airports were expanded and modernised. A Civil Aviation Training Institution (CATI) was built by the bank of river Indus at Hyderabad, with a $6 million complementary grant provided by UNDP. CATI had since become a regional training Institute.

All that was made possible by automating the entire financial system at the very out-set, thus plugging the loop holes in the revenue system, resulting in the income shooting over 50 crores in the very first year!

Having addressed the immediate deficiencies, further developments were under - taken over the remaining three years of my tenure. Seventeen additional Airports were added, thus connecting every nook and corner of the country, thereby facilitating movements of people and goods from remote areas – especially from the vast area of Balochistan, where six airports were added/modernised. Master planning of three new modern airports at Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad was undertaken, while a detailed designing of the Karachi Airport was completed. A new radar controlled automated air traffic system was inducted with the first radar installed at Karachi Airport. For this a loan was obtained on very favorable terms from the French Govt, interest 2.5 per cent, with 27 years to pay back, with a seven year’s moratorium.

Civil Aviation thus made a quantum leap, ensuring air safety and passenger facilitation, besides hugely augmenting the revenue (as we shall see later). A total of nearly $25 million in grants was obtained from various governmnets while its own revenue was increased by over 500 per cent, over the four years!

Today, CAA stands as one of the rare public sector entities (unlike PIA and steal Mill) which is earning well over Rs 3,000 crores – a far cry from the paltry revenue of Rs 18 crores. The increased revenue allowed further enhancement of the pays and emoluments of the rank and file. After all, they were the main architect of the modernisation of CAA and enhancement of revenue. Proper career planning of CAA personnel was instituted. Thus, boosting the pride and moral of CAA personnel –resulting in greater efficiency.

What of the future? CAA can take another quantum jump if it were to undertake some major steps. Knowing the role that aviation plays in the Economy, and considering the complicity of modern aviation, there is a dire need to establish a separate aviation ministry (as is the case in India and Bangladesh) to have due authority to rapidly address important issues. It is high time to separate the public sector functions of CAA from its commercial interests, thus avoiding a clash of Interest. CAA has also become too cumbersome to be efficiently handled by one person/organisation. There are several indigenous airlines besides a large number of foreign airlines operating – there are over 40 airports, carrying a huge number of passengers. Security of passengers, aircraft and aviation Installations have become vitally important. The proposed ministry should comprise several divisions for an effective and cohesive functioning.

The operations division would look after the function of managing Air space through a modern Air traffic control system (as is done by FAA in USA). The Airport management division would look after all the Airports as a commercial entity through a separate field organization called PAA: Pakistan Airports Authority (as is the case in India and elsewhere). The PAA being a purely commercial organisation would be able to place airports like Karachi on the stock market and thus earn huge revenue. An inspectorate division would monitor health and performance of pilots, aircraft’s air worthiness, check airports conforming to ICAO standards. The air traffic controller would be duly checked for standardisation and categorisation every year. The security division would oversee functions of ASF, which should be renamed Aviation security force (presently it is called Airport security force) to look after all Aviation installations - both on and off the Airports. Last but not the least, a safety division would look after Accident prevention and investigation functions - directly reporting to the minister of Aviation – to ensure transparency.

These measures would not only facilitate rapid development of the dynamic Aviation sector but would also add tremendously to the revenue, besides ensuring smooth and efficient management without clash of Interest. Today, being the birthday of CAA Pakistan (and also that of ICAO – International Civil Aviation org). I wish continued success to CAA which I had the privilege of serving as its first D.G - laying firm foundations with the help of the rank and file of CAA.