The PIA problem

There is no denying the fact that the country’s national flag carrier suffered a huge blow owing to Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar’s damning statement in June 2020. The minister had claimed in a National Assembly session that around 150 pilots in the country had fake degrees. Sarwar’s remarks came a month after the Pakistan International Airline’s (PIA) plane crash in Karachi, in which nearly 100 passengers, including the airline’s staff, were killed. Many countries, particularly the EU member states where the PIA was the sole national flight operating, had imposed a ban on the airline over safety concerns following the minister’s statement. To date, the ban has not been lifted even though the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) in its report last month had concluded that “Pakistan had resolved significant safety concerns.” Pakistan hopes that the ban will be lifted in March following the completion of audits by international auditors by the end of the month.

However, to blame the ban completely on the minister’s remarks would be face-saving as seen during a recent media talk by the national carrier’s CEO Air Marshal Arshad Malik. In his briefing to the media following the signing of the state airline’s agreement with a private company, Malik said that the airline was yet to recover from the aviation minister’s statement. Perhaps the CEO should look into the PIA’s accounts to understand its falling performance, costing billions to the national exchequer. The national carrier had reported Rs56.09bn in net losses in 2019. As of last year, they stood at a whopping Rs25bn (dropping 46 per cent) in the first half of 2021. Add to this, the poor service it offers to its customers. Stories of flight delays and luggage mismanagement have been rampant. In fact, families of the 2020 plane crash complained that they were handed over the remains of other passengers, while the staff were impolite in their behaviour. Fear of life and poor service are a few reasons why customers choose other airlines for travel. Malik should then work towards fixing these issues to make the national carrier competitive in the market. As for the minister, bringing reforms in the aviation industry would help more than giving statements.