Editorial

An open letter to Ahsan Iqbal Federal minister for planing & development about PIA

Minister of planing and development Ahsan Iqbal is the latest politician to get his hands on PIA.

Dear Mr. Ahsan Iqbal

We are writing this letter to you as recently few of your statements were published on media where you seem to be talking about Pakistan International Airline’s revival. We also read headlines about your dissatisfaction over PIA plans to sort out the mess.

So we thought we should write this letter to you so you can start the process both ways. Specially from inside where you and your government can take right steps to initiate a process of change. Here are few suggestion we would like to make so you can get an independent opinion on the issues faced by the airline. We fully endorse the report of Senate sub committee lead by Senator Muzaffar Ali Shah to start with. Which you can read here in case you missed reading it. If you would like to respond to it we will surely publish that.

1: Government is not serious about PIA.

A bagger that keeps coming

From last 3 plus years through various actions we have seen that the government is not serious about improving the situation in PIA. Yes the government has done more for PIA then previous government but still we believe the government is keeping PIA on lifeline like a bagger that keeps coming for more. Through that strategy we believe government wants to give PIA money so it can pay the bills but not the money that could be used to break the begging bowl for good. It is like keeping a patient alive but not giving it enough medication that it could recover and improve. We believe if half of the money spent through various means was used to offset PIA’s troubled finances things would have changed.

Why we feel this?

In last many years government paid billions to PIA that sunk into the airline. The former chairman said billions paid to airline are not there anymore and have been eaten by the debt and other activities including protests and strikes. If would have been better if PIA was given a comprehensive bailout package with a clear goal instead of these knee jerk and short sighted cash injections?

2: All running on ad hoc

PIA is run on ad hoc basis where its CEO is acting, its COO was acting who was sent packing few weeks ago. Its chairman is also acting. So with so much acting how you expect anything serious? From last 4 months government is sitting on the file of CEO selection board and not rectifying the selection of its CEO. Whats is the hindrance in it? How can you judge that the government is serious when it has taken more than a year to appoint a CEO for the company? How can the government expect him to perform if he knows its not actually his job? How can the government’s interior minister lay off all the load on a single person and vilify him when he is just another ad hoc? Fact of the mater is that the CEO can not even transfer a cleaner in PIA let alone make policy decisions. Everybody considers it their birth right to interfere in PIA and people responsible don’t care because being on ad hoc its not their job.

3: Anti PIA aviation policy

During the tenure of this very government UAE based airlines were given free hand to operate flights to almost all cities in Pakistan. With airline who have deep pockets not just PIA but all Pakistani airlines are pitched into a dog race where they can never win. Because they can not afford to operate routes without breaking even, let alone making profit.

So which side government is? This clearly shows that the government is happy to earn money for CAA and airports and benefit few cronies and overseas friend in Qatar and UAE but not willing to provide the rightful leverage to the national flag carrier which is its sole responsibility. And ironically where it is pouring billions of taxpayers rupees. What sort of bargain is this? At the end it is tax payer who is loosing one way or the other. Even if it gets cheap tickets and better facility but with billions paid in taxes that sink in PIA annually the cost comes is almost same. Why not think smartly and make an aviation policy that benefits local airlines and encourages healthy competition?

To start with the government should withdraw the open skies policy for middle eastern airlines specially UAE based airlines. The agreement with these airlines should be based on merit and mutual benefits not one sided traffic. There should be limits to number of flights, number of seats and size of aircraft. There should also be a reciprocal agreement on number of airlines and slots provided to each other at their respective airports. There should also be reciprocal treatment to PIA given in their countries what Pakistani airports and government gives them in Pakistan. If the government is not going to support PIA on all fronts who else will?

4: Political interference

PIA is full of political appointments with friends and relatives of politicians and PIA staff working on key positions. Politicians who have their relatives in airline or those who have their interests in aviation business or their relatives own aviation business are or have been key advisors to this government. After this how the government can set an example for PIA management to do something that it is not willing to do itself? Because it is on the record that such persons have been influencing the decision making process of PIA. Just read this report by Senate sub committee.

Airlines operate routes and flights for profit and yield not because a politician wants the airline to serve a specific route. One such routes is New York JFK route. It is a loss making route for years but nobody talks about it. The flight is routed through Manchester which adds to the loss but nobody cares. Apart from domestic and Saudi routes what others routes are profitable? Has anybody asked this question

Political appointments should be stopped and chairman of the board should be someone who has strong track record of running a business preferably aviation business. But nobody, not the chairman or members of the PIACL board or secretary aviation or the aviation advisor or any minister should interfere in the work of CEO. The lobbies within PIA should be dismantled and any political affiliation in working of the airline should be discouraged. So to start the process the government should back off from its support of Air League and all the cronies coming from it. If the government is serious about merit then it doesn’t require an association or union to run its agenda. But we have seen over past decades how PPP and PMLN both have their cronies in unions and associations who run the agenda and dismantle it. These people are not sincere to PIA and many within PIA believe that they are the cancer that PIA needs to get rid of. A PMLN senator who chairs a special committee on PIA has close family members working for PIA but nobody asks questions about that. Anybody heard about a word conflict of interest?

The race to please PM Nawaz Sharif

The prime minister could be a from successful business family but surely he has no experience in running an airline. When PIA received Airbus A320s it is reported that PIA officials wanted to have them in all economy configuration but the PM questioned it nobody bothered to explain to him the reason and the aircrafts were configured into two classes. Now less than two years after PIA is once again reconfiguring these aircrafts into all economy. Its the same case with PIA premier as in order to make a case the whole process was rushed and millions were wasted. Those millions could have been used to refurbish the current fleet or get a proper solution or aircraft on dry lease. But due to political pressure and in a race to please the PM without a proper thinking process the aircrafts were sourced. Now another aircraft on cheaper price is sourced again on wet lease to run the premier service. We surely believe the launch could have waited for 6 months and PIA could have sorted out something properly for this important product.

5: VIPs should pay VIP or take economy

PIA has business class seats and services that are mostly used by members of parliament and provincial assemblies. While the politicians lecture PIA to sort its house they need to look into their own act as well. The tax payers pay billions to foot the bill for PIA losses. Then they foot the bill again to provide business class facilities for these same politicians while majority of the poor tax payers can not even afford an economy seat.

Then PIA spends millions annually to cater for these VIPs by assigning officials whose only job is to receive and drop a senator or member of national assembly. Because we have some senator’s who complain about “oily snacks on PIA” and fight with crew onboard aircrafts because they did “call her madam instead of calling her senator”. We have heard a senator in a committee asking for cheap tickets for his colleagues, there are many flights operated by PIA that only serve some politicians. On domestic routes PIA does not need business class seats and the space wasted on such seats should be used to put extra economy seats. If British PM can travel on economy seat why can’t an MNA, Senator or even our PM can travel on economy? Why there should be a PIA office in parliament when there is fully functional office just a stone’s throw from the houses of parliament? Can we expect the minister to get rid of the office in parliament in order to save some tax payers money?

While we agree with the minister that “PIA needs well-envisioned business plan for revival” and that “it was a make or break opportunity for management to fix and turn around the airline otherwise it would be highly unfortunate if the PIA becomes another white elephant.” We also believe it is a make or break opportunity for the minister to get rid of these bad practices that are costing the taxpayers and PIA a fortune. No airline can run on such lavish pampering and by shunning these practices the politicians can set an example and then demand better performance from PIA. But we feel it is intentionally kept in this status quo so nobody can scratch the back of other side. 

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