The main issue of PIA has been overstaffing, interference by unions and a shortage of airplanes
KARACHI: This refers to Ayesha Siddiqa’s article “Killing an airline?” (October 8). While painting PIA’s deteriorating picture and its ongoing tussle between the management and Palpa, some important facts have been overlooked that have led this great airline into a big mess. The main issue of PIA has been overstaffing, interference by unions and a shortage of airplanes. Between 2005 and 2015, PIA suffered losses of over Rs231 billion and continues to add to its losses despite a 50 per cent reduction in fuel cost by cutting down of most revenue-generating routes and handing over our ever-increasing passengers to foreign airlines. Why does PIA need 10 more aircraft in its fleet to replace old airplanes and a total freeze on fresh hiring? Unfortunately, all successive governments have turned PIA into an employment exchange and the practice goes on unabated.
PIA has a strength of 19,000 employees with the highest ratio of 700 people per aircraft. Under such circumstances, how can the government expect turning it into a profit-making entity? It is not the first time Palpa decided to go by the book; this has happened in the past as well. PIA, by now, should have been brought under essential services. As per ICAO rules, the Civil Aviation Authority needs to ensure the security and safety standards of all aircraft through well-established standard operating procedures; in case of even minor violations, there can be big disasters as was the case with the Air Blue and Bhoja Airline crashes.
Keeping in view the poor health of PIA, the government has decided to privatise it. There is no harm in its privatisation, but will someone explain when should an asset be privatised, and why are planes being added to the existing fleet and money wasted on other development work? This should be left to the buyers.
At present, the aviation industry is in a total mess due to interference from the aviation division. As long as the powers that be continue to appoint their favourites regardless of their suitability for positions, the results will never be productive. There cannot be two opinions when the writer says that special assistants in aviation symbolise conflicts of interest. The media has done its duty in exposing this conflict of interest but the government is silent on the issue. It is hoped that people may hear good news from the Supreme Court sometime this month when the outcome of the constitutional petition filed against the appointment of special assistants is announced. PIA can still be revived — cut down its manpower to maintain a reasonable employee-to-aircraft ratio, ban the unions for two years, cancel the contracts of newly hired people, review the policy of giving away free tickets, induct new planes, complete the training of waiting cadet pilots to avoid hiring from the outside and above all, appoint professionals, not friends.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 11th, 2015.
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