ISLAMABAD - Pakistan’s top aviation functionary has made it clear that there will be no ‘forced layoffs’ of employees with regard to privatisation of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), adding they will be taken into confidence before initiating the process of shares’ selloff. “We are to follow the policy of consultation, not confrontation,” said Shujaat Azeem, the newly appointed prime minister’s special assistant on aviation, referring to the reported opposition to the government’s plan of PIA privatisation by the airlines’ employees unions. In a detailed interaction with The Nation on Wednesday, he revealed the anxiously-awaited National Aviation Policy (NAP) would be out before June this year.

Earlier, Azeem served as the PM’s adviser on aviation for a short span of six weeks (June 10-July 25) last year and stepped down following a case against him in the Supreme Court regarding his dual-nationality and other issues. In an interview on July 18, 2013, his first ever to any media outlet in the previous capacity as well, Shujaat Azeem had stated that he was determined to improve Pakistan’s commercial aviation standards, including streamlining the flight billing system, closure of PIA off-line stations abroad and improvement of passengers’ facilitation services at the airports.

Notified by PM Nawaz Sharif as his special assistant on Tuesday, Shujaat Azeem shared his views on the steps he claimed were initiated during his previous stint to revamp the commercial aviation sector but were apparently shelved soon after he stepped down. Those were introduction of NAP, hiring of new aircraft, appointment of new chairman and managing director at PIA and several measures aimed at facilitating the passengers at the airports.

“All the stakeholders would be duly consulted and taken into confidence before PIA privatisation,” he said adding reservations of the employees’ unions would be addressed fully. “I would soon hold meetings with the unions’ representatives and tell them there would be no forced redundancies or downsizing in consequence of the privatisation.”

The PIA management would introduce golden handshake scheme to financially accommodate and compensate those personnel who wanted to proceed on early retirement, without forcing any employee to quit the job, Azeem said.

“I don’t think privatisation is a proper word for PIA’s 26 percent shares’ selfoff. It’s a sincere effort on our part to pull this loss-making enterprise out of crises. Billions of rupees are pumped into ventilating the PIA. This amount can be spent on public welfare projects. Selling the PIA shares to the private sector would certainly help improve the airline’s economic condition.”

Shujaat Azeem said the NAP’s final draft was ready and would be put up before all the stakeholders for their respective inputs “Once this is done and the stakeholders’ inputs are received, they’ll be incorporated in the final draft of NAP that would be released before this June. It’s a gigantic task because aviation policy was last introduced in the year 2000 and since then Pakistan manages its aviation affairs without an aviation policy.”

The PIA, the aviation official said, would advertise for hiring the Boeing 737-900 and Airbus A320 aircraft. “We intend to get 15 to 20 aircraft of new models of 2010 and onwards and will go for either of the two types of planes, whichever suits us best, considering the PPRA (Public Procurement Regulatory Authority) rules. We need fuel-efficient and technologically equipped aircraft to save time and money,” Azeem said, adding the plan to bring flight simulators for Boeing 737-900 and Airbus A320 was also under consideration. “Two to three-hour flight simulation is required for pilots before flying Boeing 737-900 and seven to 10 hours for Airbus A320. If we get the simulators, it would be a huge leap towards self-sufficiency,” he pointed out.

In the light of the Supreme Court’s directions, PIA would also advertise appointment of managing director and chairman, board of directors (BoD), Azeem said. Several candidates were shortlisted for the PIA MD slot last year soon after an advertisement was published. “But none of them lived up to the expectations,” he disclosed.

It merits recalling here that the PIA BoD office bearers, including the then acting chairman Aslam Khaliq, business magnets, Mian Mansha and Arif Habeeb, as well as Nasser NS Jaffer, Imran Khan and Sarfaraz A Rehman, had stepped down last year in protest of Shujaat Azeem’s stepping down as the PM’s aviation adviser. The PIA and CAA boards have recently been reconstituted and no changes would be made in their existing nomenclatures, Azeem revealed.

He said passengers’ facilitation services would be improved at the airports across Pakistan, in general, and Quetta and Peshawar, in particular. “The PM’s instructions to give priority to Quetta and Peshawar airports that are in dilapidated conditions are very clear. Our policy is ‘passenger comes first’ and no compromise would be made on this count. We’ll make sure that passengers are given utmost respect and facilitated in the best possible manner and no negligence in this regard would be tolerated.” The Wi-Fi internet facility would be made available at all the operational airports of Pakistan, he said.

The PM’s special assistant on aviation also mentioned of Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore where hundreds of flights see prolonged delays each year in the winter season due to fog. “This airport shall be upgraded from Category 11 to Category 111-level-related equipment that allows flight operations even in zero visibility. This facility would gradually be extended to the other airports,” he asserted.

Shujaat Azeem said, “We shall strive to revive Pakistan’s past glory in commercial aviation sector.” The much-awaited New Benazir Bhutto International Airport (NBBIA) would expectedly be ready by 2016, he further revealed. “At this point, I am not in a position to share any accurate details because I need to visit the NBBIA before making any statement about that airport,” Azeem stated.