Airlines around the world seem to be under increased scrutiny, where the smallest misstep in public dealing and customer service becomes a disproportionately large public relations crisis. Perhaps because of this pressure, airlines are now also taking extreme care to clean up their operations and diligently work to solve problems top down. All airlines but the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) – Pakistan’s flagship airline however, seems to be lurching from crisis to crisis with little control over its downward spiral.

On Monday, the British Border Force held a PIA flight at London where it searched the cabin and crew and recovered a “quantity of heroin” on board. This is not the first time PIA operatives were caught smuggling drugs and contraband to other countries, and unless PIA puts its house in order it won’t be the last. The fact that the airline had to issue a notification warning that all operatives involved in smuggling will be immediately terminated goes to show the extent of the problem. These are not mere customer service problems that the PIA is facing – but full-blown criminal ones.

Smuggling is not the only problem; every month seems to bring a new crisis of dereliction of duty by some section of the PIA setup. From over boarding and making three passengers stand throughout the flight, to pilots sleeping or taking passengers into the cockpit, these seems to be a non-existent culture of professionalism present at all times. Couple this with the chronic safely and maintenance issues and the airline becomes a national embarrassment. The reports that foreign travel agents advise against traveling on PIA should be a wakeup call to the PIA administration.

But nothing seems to wake up the administration, or perhaps upon waking up it was unable to do anything at all. Despite being nationally and internationally derided and condemned after each crisis, the airline has been unable to fix its problems. The matter has been discussed in the parliament, top management changed and parts of the airline privatised, but PIA’s problems continue to pop up at an alarming rate.

The time has come for the government to intervene decisively – to install an administration that will take drastic steps to fix PIA’s problems. No one expects the airline to become the paragon of professionalism and diligence overnight but an administrative shakeup could at least make sure criminal activities and violations of air safety rules are eliminated.

PIA’s descent into disgrace has been well documented, but Pakistan’s inability to fix the airline is dragging the nation’s name in the mud as well.