ISLAMABAD - Despite facing severe criticism over continuous operational lapses, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has failed to make significant improvement in its alarmingly low flight punctuality rate for the post-Haj operation being completed in a week.

On the other hand, nearly 600 PIA staff members have been reportedly sent to Saudi Arabia with majority of these personnel enjoying vacations there instead of facilitating passengers, it has been learnt.

According to documentary evidence available with this newspaper, the state-run airline’s flight punctuality rate, till mid of this month, was recorded at 20 percent with flight delay rate touching eighty percent. Presently, the punctuality rate has shown two to three percent increase and is recorded at around 23 percent, informed insiders said.

On the other hand, a PIA statement issued Thursday skipped providing exact figure for flight punctuality rate for post-Haj operation while giving details of the pre-Haj flight punctuality rate that had ended over a month ago. This, the officials said, is so because the flight punctuality rate recorded in post-Haj period is not ‘quite remarkable.’ 

The PIA statement said, “The PIA pre-Haj operation of transporting intending Hajis (pilgrims) to Saudi Arabia was concluded successfully with overall flights punctuality over 96 percent and seat factor of 99 percent on October 20, 2012 while the post-Haj operation would conclude on November 29, 2012.”

When approached, the PIA General Manger Public Relations/ Spokesman Syed Sultan Hassan said that the flight punctuality rate for the post-Haj operation was not available. “It would be estimated once the post-Haj operation is completed,” he said while insisting that flights were arriving ‘as per normal routine.’

One of the major reasons for massive flight delays, the PIA officials said, involves deputing an unprecedented number of PIA’s technical staff in Saudi Arabia under a departmental scheme but on the pretext of facilitating passengers in Haj operation. “Around 600 PIA officials had been sent to Saudi Arabia ahead of pre-Haj operation. Majority of these personnel is enjoying annual holidays under a departmental scheme instead of facilitating passengers,” the officials informed adding that other pertinent factors were also causing flight delays including high number of international flights at Jeddah Airport, strong winds confronted during post-Haj flights from Saudi Arabia to Pakistan, late arrivals of the pilgrims at the Jeddah Airport due to traffic congestion in Jeddah city, as well as technical problems due to excessive flying routine of PIA aircraft.    

Asked to comment on reportedly huge number of PIA officials been sent to Saudi Arabia, the PIA Spokesman Sultan Hassan said, “Those sent to Saudi Arabia are just 200 to 250 in number. They have been sent there to facilitate passengers. Previously, the Saudi aviation authorities used to hire Saudi Ground Handling (SGH) agents for passengers facilitation during pre and post-Haj days. This year, they have hired PIA’s skilled staff to meet the growing demand of facilitating increasing number of Pakistani passengers.”

Over 6000 pilgrims are landing in Pakistan daily in eight to ten Haj flights from Saudi Arabia, Hassan said. Apart from Haj flights, three commercial flights, one each at Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad airports, are arriving from Saudi Arabia, he added.

The PIA’s statistical data on post-Haj operations issued Thursday suggests that so far, 60521 pilgrims have been brought back to Pakistan in 143 Haj flights. As many as 8,753 pilgrims have landed at Karachi Airport by 18 flights, 11,496 pilgrims landed in Islamabad by 23 flights, 10,038 pilgrims by 20 flights to Lahore, 10,836 pilgrims to Peshawar by 33 flights, 9,397 pilgrims landed in Quetta by 29 flights, 6,510 pilgrims to Multan by 13 flights and 3,491 pilgrims to Sialkot by seven flights.

The data available with The Nation reveals that only one Haj flight landed at Sukkur Airport in the first week of November. It carried 107 pilgrims.

By this month’s first week, the data reveals, only nine of the total 48 Haj flights had landed in Pakistan on time while 39 flights saw massive delays. Then, the flight punctuality rate was recorded at 18.8 percent while flight delay rate stood at 81.3 percent. As many as 20,836 pilgrims had arrived in Pakistan in these 48 flights. Within that time period, as many as 3428 pilgrims had landed in Karachi by six flights but only one flight reached on time, 5527 pilgrims landed in Islamabad on 11 flights with no flight having reached on time, 6029 pilgrims landed in Lahore by 12 flights with only two flights on time, 3942 pilgrims landed in Peshawar by 12 flights with four flights on time, 1910 pilgrims arrived in Quetta by six flights and only two flights were on time while the only flight that landed in Sukkar was on time.