The recent PIA Turkish airline deal which was signed on 29 Dec 2010 vide the "Record of Discussions" signed by MD of PIA and CEO of THY came under a lot of scrutiny and criticism. The biggest objection raised was that PIA was suspending its existing frequency of flights and slots to New York, Chicago, Frankfurt, Barcelona, Amsterdam and Milan, in return for mere commission per passenger it would feed to Turkish Airlines for onward transportation from Istanbul. In return Turk HY was to offer joint venture operation on Pk flights from Pakistan to Kathmandu, Dacca, Bombay, Colombo and Male all points east of Pakistan. THY only operates to Bombay out of these listed stations east of Pakistan and it does not intend to even suspend this flight. Airlines enter into alliances with other airlines and sign code sharing, route sharing, pool, commercial cooperation arrangements or Special Prorate Agreements on all or specific sectors, but very rarely cease operation on routes for fear of losing them, unless they are adequately compensated financially. This Record of Discussion document raised a lot of suspicion because since 1990, no airline in the world has given up its Take Off /Landing Slots at busy airports without payment of millions of dollars. New York, Chicago, Amsterdam, Frankfurt are very busy airports, where airlines eager to seek slots are much more than the capacity of traffic their runways can handle. PIA in the past signed joint partnership with Saudia Airlines in 80s on its Jeddah Kano sector. According to the arrangement PIA aircrafts flew on this sector with a SV(Saudia) call sign and got a commission for carrying these passengers. The Kingdom continued to retain ownership of the traffic slot. PIA's Take Off/Landing Slots are its biggest and only asset which are valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, while its aircrafts are pledged with banks as equity and therefore cannot be listed as an asset. Airlines exercise what are known as "Grandfather rights over these slots which ownership is limited to "use it or lose it" principle. They hang on to the slots they already have under so-called grandfather rights, and twice a year bid for more slots to operate extra services. At Heathrow, there are normally 40% more bids for each hour of operation than the runways can accommodate. Airlines jealously hoard their slots and in some cases these landing rights have become more valuable than the companies themselves. Some aviation analysts believe that there are no legal grounds for these carriers to own the slots, and advocate that they should belong to the State and be leased to the highest bidder. High prices for rented slots would encourage only profitable flights, which would almost certainly mean full flights. BA has also operated uneconomical flights from Heathrow in the past but has moved to a more efficient and flexible use of its landing times to get around the use-it-or-lose-it rule. Slots are arguably an airlines most valuable asset, yet are almost never listed in airline balance sheets. The trade is regarded by some regulators as unlawful, or at best legally dubious. And strangest of all, in the weird world of slots, is that nobody is really sure who owns them. MALIK TARIQ ALI, February 24.