Farhan Abbasi

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has been one of government’s major priorities. Immediately after its tenure started, steps were taken to expand the fleet size of the national flag carrier. As a result today, PIA now has 37 airplanes as compared to just 18 two and a half years ago. PIA’s management is following a plan under which this number would reach 40 by the end of the current year and taken to 50 by the end of 2016.

In Pakistan’s political arena, PML (N) symbolises development, progress and prosperity. Nearly all major development projects that we see today have been the result of the policies of this party. No wonder when the current government came to the helm of affairs in June 2013, a series of important infrastructure development projects were undertaken. In addition, steps were taken for bringing about improvement in the lot of various departments which were not faring too well.

These two aircraft are technologically better, and in addition to allowing PIA increase the number of its flights, they would also bring fuel efficiency to organisation. This would ease burden on country’s foreign exchange reserves and improve the balance sheet of the national airline.

The other steps that have been taken by the present government include increase in the number of flights on profitable routes while discontinuing flights on non-profitable routes. Under this strategy flights going to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Katmandu, Frankfurt, Amsterdam, and Glasgow have been discontinued and those flying to profitable routes like Doha, Abu Dhabi, Muscat, Dubai, Beijing and Kuala Lumpur have been increased.

PIA also had offline offices, located in those places where the airlines did not operate a flight. Several of these stations have been closed to reduce financial burden. These include Sydney, Frankfurt, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Katmandu, Amsterdam and Chicago.

PIA signed progressive code sharing agreements with other airlines, including China Southern Airlines, Thai Airways, Turkish Airways and Ittehad Airways, to allow its passengers to travel on PIA tickets to several such destinations where PIA flights do not operate.

It has been due to these and several other similar steps taken by the PIA management and Aviation Division that during the last two years 82 per cent of PIA’s flights have been on time. During the massive Haj operation, under which more than 55000 Hujjaj were brought home on nearly 150 flights, more than 96pc of flights arrived on time.

The Haj operation figures are especially impressive as it took place during a “Go-Slow” strike by PIA pilots union, PALPA. Taking cognizance of the possible shortage of pilots, the PIA management diverted resources in a smart and efficient way that not a single Haj flight was disturbed.

Here, one must also appreciate the maturity shown by PIA’s management while dealing with PALPA’s strike. For the first time, instead of bogging down to their demands, the management, as well as the Aviation Division, stood their ground and resolved the matter amicably on the negotiating table.

Certain quarters in Pakistan had reservations on the financial package of Rs. 12 billion given by the current government to PIA. Across the world several top national flag carriers enjoy patronage of their governments. One can quote the example of Qatar Airways which has received subsidy worth $16 billion from the government since 2004. Similar has been the case with Emirates, Lufthansa and Japan airlines which also have received support worth billions of dollars from their governments. The problem with PIA has been its legacy loans taken long time ago, during the tenures of previous governments, whose compounded interest has been a real burden on the airlines. Steps are being taken for financial restructuring of PIA in order to make it a profit-earning entity.

On the directions of Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif PIA increased the number of its training centers in the country and centers were established and facilities improved in Swat, Quetta, Rawalpindi, in addition to Karachi and Lahore.

PIA’s cabin crew, which has a key role in building the image of any airlines, as it comes directly in contact with the people, is being trained at the training facilities abroad.

However, due to the presence of several unions in PIA and their repeated industrial disputes, the organisation has been getting bad name. It is about time some steps were taken to stop this. The government needs to take immediate action on this so that this public service entity serves the people in an efficient manner rather than being overwhelmed by its own internal problems.

PIA has a glorious past. The airlines helped establish major airlines of the region. Exactly half a century ago, in November 1965, “a high powered delegation of Saudi Arabian Airlines (SAA) visited Karachi to study the organisation and working of PIA to adopt them with an aim to technically improve the airlines.” A news story published in a reputed national English daily of Pakistan at that time said “SAA authorities approached the PIA after having been greatly impressed by the latter’s reputation as an airline with a high technical efficiency record. PIA was the first foreign airline to be contacted by the SAA for the purpose.”

20 years down the road, on October 25, 1985, Emirates airline was launched with the help of PIA and its first flight was flown by a PIA pilot Captain Fazle Ghani, from Dubai to Karachi. PIA’s pilots and engineers were part of the team which laid the foundation of Emirates. Cabin crew of Emirates was also trained at PIA training center in Karachi.

One wishes and hopes the national flag carrier would one day regain its lost glory and make it’s a mark in the world of aviation. It is expected that Prime Minister and his Special Assistant on Aviation, Shujaat Azeem would continue taking steps to realise this dream.