The Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA), being the regulatory authority, has a pivotal role to play in making air travel in Pakistan safe and secure for national and foreign airline operators. Pakistan is a member state of the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO). Therefore, PCAA is bound to follow ICAO recommendations in letter and spirit. To ensure that regulators follow its recommendations, ICAO periodically carries out audits of member states. The upcoming audit of PCAA was scheduled for November 2020. According to my information, it has been pushed forward till 2022. The Ministry of Aviation division should make the best of this opportunity and put the house of PCAA in order.

The big question is “what if the PCAA does not come up to ICAO-approved standards as a regulator”? In that case, foreign airlines may stop coming to Pakistan and our local airlines will either have restrictions imposed for operating into other countries or will simply not be allowed to operate at all.

As a first step, the government needs to appoint a permanent Director General (DG) PCAA who should be appointed on the basis of merit and professional competence, most importantly, a person with an aviation background. The current DG is in acting capacity and cannot do much for PCAA in his present status. The DG should then choose a team of professionals who would help PCAA to come out of the present stalemate. All that needs to be done is effective implementation of rules, regulations and standard operating procedures (SOPS) which are already in place and in conformity with ICAO recommendations. There is no need to reinvent the wheel, just plain implementation is the answer.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is the national flag carrier. At one time, PIA used to be the pride of Pakistan. I remember my first trip to New York in 1982, I wanted to go to the Pakistan consulate in NY, I asked the taxi driver to take me to the Pakistan consulate; he wasn’t too sure about its location but he replied that there is a Pakistan Airline office where he can take me.

PIA has provided technical and operational support to many airlines around the globe, Emirates being one of them. Like the saying goes “we taught many airlines how to fly but we forgot ourselves”.

The PIA management does not have much time. The clock is ticking. The good part is that, like in the case of PCAA, all rules, regulation and SOPs are in place. PIA just needs a management team to help implement these rules, regulations and SOPs. It is these very regulations that most successful airlines are following and implementing correctly.

I am sure the government has enough resources to find aviation professionals locally or internationally to manage PIA affairs. If the government cannot put a professional team in place then as a last resort, the best solution would be to privatise it.

Both PCAA and PIA have to uphold merit and professional competence as the criteria for all cadres of employees. The board of directors of these organisations should include aviation specialists. Government interference in these organisations must stop.

The government has to take the aviation industry seriously. Civil aviation is the face of a country and reflects on its overall outlook. Previous governments have flirted with the system by appointing heads of PCAA and PIA on the basis of favouritism and connections, may they be civilians or non-civilians. We all know how these appointments take place. I am not saying that the present team at PCAA and PIA is dishonest or has bad intentions. It could be that they simply cannot manage these government entities effectively, due to lack of experience and knowhow.

There is no dearth of honest and professionally-competent aviation specialists in Pakistan and abroad; there are Pakistani pilots, engineers and managers who are working in foreign airlines, some of them holding or have held senior management positions. They may be contacted for these important appointments.

The Civil Aviation Authority of a country and the airline industry are connected to each other through an umbilical cord. If PCAA sets its house in order then automatically, national and foreign airline operators will have to improve their safety standards, thus ensuring safer skies.

Irfan Ajmal Chowdhry

The writer served PIA for 35 years as a pilot, held management positions in the flight operations department, and joined a foreign airline as a captain. He can be reached at irfan_ajmal@hotmail.com