ISLAMABAD - Observing that the purpose of interference in the affairs of Pakistan International Airline was to ascertain the causes of loss incurred, the Supreme Court on Thursday barred the PIA from new hiring and firing of the staff except contract pilots.

The top court also asked Auditor General to conduct a special audit of PIA of last ten years. The top court also temporarily allowed former special assistant to prime minister on aviation Captain (Retd) Shujaat Azeem and a former Managing Director (MD) Aslam Agha to travel abroad.

A four-judge bench headed by Chief Justice Mian Saqib Nisar took up a suo motu case for hearing pertaining to losses incurred by the national flag carrier, handing over profitable routes to other airlines and pasting Markhor on the planes of PIA instead of Pakistani flag.

During the course of hearing, chief justice remarked that condition of bathrooms should be improved instead of placing the pictures of Markhor on tales of planes.

Azeem submitted his reply stating that he was approached by the government to provide the assistance and advice in aviation sector.

The reply further stated that Azeem remained special assistant to prime minister for 2 years, claiming that he never accepted any financial support from any of the departments.

“I (Azeem) wish to emphasise that in my capacity as Special Assistant, I made suggestions, advise while the operations of PIA, and its day to day management was run by its Chairman and CEO and Managing Director, while strategic decisions were taken by an independent Board under the PIAC Act 1956 that included accomplished professionals with proven track records in their areas of work/business,” the reply added.

“Major issue facing PIA has always been excess/surplus staff. Fleet-to-manpower rationalisation had been a top agenda item,” Azeem stated, adding that around 315 fake degree holders were identified and removed from service.

He further added that after a lapse of over 10 years, PIA recorded a gross operating profit of Rs2.83 billion in 1st quarter of 2015 while losses reduced by average 28 per cent over two years. 

During the course of hearing chief justice observed that the organisation, the national flag carrier, suffered damage due to nepotism, likes and dislikes adding that those responsible had established their housing societies and farm house.

He also observed that the administration of PIA should be in strong hands.  Later the court adjourned the further hearing till Saturday

 Previously, Economist Dr Farrukh Saleem, who was appointed as amicus in the case, prepared a Financial Review of last 10-years which stated: “Pakistan International Airline (PIA) incurred net loss of Rs316 billion with Rs239 billion in addition as liabilities from 2008 to 2017.”

According to Saleem, persistency and the magnitude of losses raise serious questions on the viability of PIA in terms of revenue operating cost which was Rs134 billion in 2016.

Regarding the accumulated loss, the review stated that it was nearly 88 per cent over past 10 years wherein 33 percent or Rs119 billion from 2008 to 2012 and 55 percent or Rs197 billion accumulated loss incurred during 2013 to 2017, the tenure of Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N).

The review also stated that there was political interference in the airline and its board of directors, executive management, managing directors and advisor on aviation were politically nominated or appointed.

Cargo revenue fallen from Rs6.4 billion to Rs3.6 billion in 2016 and there have been unsubstantiated estimates of an annual loss of roughly Rs. 2 billion on this account, the report had stated. In 2012, Pakistan signed Air Service Agreement (ASA) with UAE, in 2013 with Turkey, in 2014 with Qatar.

As per data weekly flight frequency of foreign airlines has gone up 546 while industry experts are of the opinion that three airlines including Qatar Airways, Emirates and Etihad have been doled out disproportionate favours.

It further added that in 2016 the medical expenses were Rs.3 billion and prima facie the amount widely exaggerated which needs to be looked into.

Meanwhile, in another case the same bench barred private schools from charging fees during summer breaks.

Chief justice observed that it was government’s inefficiency due to which education sector could not be prioritized adding that a poor man’s child cannot afford to study in a private institution due to the massive fees.

He further remarked that currently more students were enrolled in private institutions than in government schools adding it was state’s responsibility to ensure the provision of education to the poor.