ISLAMABAD - The PIA management has decided to hire Boeing 737 planes for Haj operations after a related committee recommended leasing the said aircraft preferring it to airbus due to the operational reasons, it is learnt.

While the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Board's decision to go for leasing Boeing 737 and 747 has drawn criticism concerning the operational efficiency and durability of the said aircraft, some credible aviation experts argue that the Boeing 737-800 and 747-400 are the feasible aircraft the national airline can lease on stop gap arrangement basis to facilitate passengers till new planes are purchased.

Sources in the airline said, the Board of Directors (BoD) had formed a committee earlier this year to finalise acquiring commercial planes on lease. The committee was mandated to make a choice out of the two aircraft, Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A320, to be hired on lease. The panel, reportedly after consulting the PIA experts, departmental unions and management, finally preferred to choose Boeing, according to credible PIA officials.

Talking to TheNation, former Director General Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Air Marshal (Retd) Khalid Chaudhry said, both Boeing 737-800 and Airbus A320 have distinct features, which is why, he said, these aircraft are being used across the globe. "The commercial market for Airbus A320 is rapidly increasing. China has started manufacturing this aircraft under licence from Airbus company. It's a new plane so naturally it is technologically more sound. On the other hand, Boeing 737 is the largest selling plane across the globe. Some of its older versions are now considered redundant but new versions like Boeing 737-800 Shorthall and 737 Max are out there to compete Airbus A320."

The ex-CAA boss cited the recent aviation figures which suggested that Airbus company had 1500 orders worldwide for the purchase of its A320 aircraft while purchase orders for Boeing 737-800 stood at 647. Boeing and Airbus are the two largest and internationally known aircraft manufacturers. The 737-800 and A320 can be used for international as well as domestic flights. I have not made a comparison which one is better."

President Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (PALPA) Sohail Baloch said, the PIA has all the required expertise including operational and technical skills, crew management, engineering manpower, spare parts and logistical equipment to handle Boeing 737-800 and Boeing 747-400 aircraft, compared to the Airbus A320.

"The required expertise for Airbus A320 are not available here. Our crew, engineering, technical and operational personnel are well-trained on Boeing planes. I think the PIA Board's approval for leasing the Boeing planes is a good one. These planes are available on minimum possible rates." The Boeing aircraft to be leased were manufactured in 2004 and the years that followed, Baloch said.

Aviation expert and another former CAA Chief Air Commodore (r) Junaid Amin said,  some models of Boeing 737 and Boeing 747 are 'very old' and need to be grounded while the new models of these aircraft are airworthy. " I don't know which Boeing 737 and 747 models they are going to lease. The recent models of these aircraft are airworthy."

When informed about PIA Board's approval for hiring Boeing 737-800, 747-400 and 777 planes on lease, Amin said, "These planes are considered suitable for international flights. They need proper maintenance and regular inspection. Every aircraft would become outdated if not maintained well and inspected regularly. Old planes can have long flying lives if kept in good conditions."

Former Aviation Investigator CAA Wing Commander (r) Muhammad Naseem believed, Airbus A320 is technologically superior than Boeing 737-800 but its relevant expertise are lacking in Pakistan. "Airbus A320 is a far better and modified version of Airbus A310 that is considered as an outdated aircraft now. In recent years, many countries and private airlines have inducted Airbus A320 in their commercial fleet replacing Boeing 737-800 with it. The Airbus A320 has technological superiority over Boeing 737-800 on technical grounds as well as in terms of efficacy. Inducting this aircraft into Pakistan's commercial fleet requires a lot of pre-operational trainings and other relevant skills that need a lot of expenditure."

On Tuesday, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) Spokesperson Denis Chagnon had mentioned of ICAO having shared its concerns with some states who were following compromised air safety and aircraft maintenance standards  and using those Boeing planes that had "way far exceeded their flying limit" particularly Boeing 737 and Boeing 747.

Elaborating on his statement, Chagnon said, "I had said, in several instances, Boeing planes were found unfit for flight operations due to their poor maintenance conditions and exhausted flying limits. By saying this, I tried to refer to poor maintenance conditions of old model aircrafts. This does not mean that every Boeing is not fit for flights. Boeing are reputed aircraft manufacturers and their credibility stands beyond any doubt," he told this newspaper.

Reportedly, the PIA's operational and technical crews require at least six months of training to operate Airbus A320 before the aircraft is brought into operational phase for commercial operations.

The PIA officials said, purchasing new aircraft takes a time span of three to four years. "Too many bureaucratic hurdles are involved in buying new planes including lengthy procedures for getting approvals from the authorities concerned and official clearances from different departments. This process takes years. Till then, all we can rely on is the Bridging Plan, to manage our affairs on temporary basis," they shared.

A top PIA official said, the CAA approves and endorses the operational ratings of Boeing aircraft between the models 737-300 up to 737-800 and 747-400. "All these planes are operationally fit for flight operations," he said.

The PIA's BoD had approved leasing nine Boeing planes on Tuesday including Boeing 737-800, 747-400 and 777 aircraft. Initial reports had suggested that the BoD had granted approval to lease 12 planes but the number was finally confirmed at nine planes on Wednesday.

Of these planes, five are Narrow Body 737-800 aircraft, two Wide Body 747-400 and 777 each, a PIA spokesman said. "These aircraft are to be leased on Bridging Plan which in technical terms stands for stop gap arrangement till new plane are purchased," he said adding that the sate-run airline already has a 747-400 and five Boeing 737-300 aircraft.