It had been evident for the past few months, with the string of mishaps and incidents of passengers left stranded, that something needed to be done about Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). It seems the pressure got to PIA as the institution itself took authority and fired its Chief Operations Officer (COO) Zia Qadir Quereshi this Friday.
Qureshi, who was reported to be close to the former prime minister on aviation Mehtab Abbasi, was hired on a contract at Rs. 1.5 million per month when he was just three months short of reaching the age of superannuation at the time of his appointment, which meant that continuation of his appointment after superannuation would be subject to bi-annual review of his performance. Quereshi has reportedly been let go due because he could not perform his duties according to work standards of the PIA and had failed to achieve the objectives for which he had been hired.
This firing was a necessary change for PIA to carry out; especially after the spectacularly bad press the national flag-carrier had received with several incidents where it had deserted passengers due to unexplainable delays. Quereshi’s appointment on COO had been reported to be because of political meddling, which is one of the largest issues facing PIA right now. However, with losses amounting to an excess of Rs. 360 billion, PIA requires more than just a change of leadership.
Perhaps the appointment of Quereshi highlights the key problem that PIA faces-political meddling, which has lead to unmerited postings and salaries. A report carried out by Pakistani Senators in 2017 highlighted that unqualified and unsuitable employees were inducted by successive governments based on political affiliation. Combined with this, this is a huge issue of overstaffing -yet governments keep giving jobs in the organisation for political leverage. The employee-to-aircraft ratio at PIA is reported to be 485, almost twice as much as the standard followed by the world’s profit-making airlines. The salaries, perks, and medical bills of the extra staff add up to millions of rupees, dooming PIA to operate on loss.
It would be unfair to lay the blame on our inefficient airline system all on PIA. For any change in PIA to be meaningful, there needs to be change in the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) too, which goes hand-in-hand with PIA, and is undergoing its own management crisis. There needs to be proper reorganisation of the structure of both the CAA and PIA.