The month of November was an eventful month in Pakistani Aviation scene. A long-awaited report on PIA flight PK601 that crashed near Havallian was presented in Sindh High court. The crash report was presented after the delay of four years and yet it left so many questions unanswered that the court is still grappling with. Then another court case decided the fate of secretary Aviation who was “illegally” working as Director General Pakistan Civil Aviation for years. Islamabad High court not only declared the action of giving DG PCAA additional charge to secretary Aviation illegal but also placed a huge question mark over the decision made by the Secretary Aviation as DG PCAA. The Chief Justice Islamabad High court in his order wrote: “the status of the orders passed during this period also has to be justified”.
Before this order, the learned Attorney General assured the court that the Federal Government is in the process of appointing a Director-General in accordance with the provisions of Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority Ordinance, 1982 (hereinafter referred to as the ‘Ordinance of 1982’). Within three days the government-appointed Flt. Lt. retired Khaqan Murtaza as new DG PCAA. I wonder what part of his qualification complies with the 1982 ordinance because his rank (flight lieutenant) is the only that has anything to do with aviation or being a pilot.
The new DG PCAA is a grade 21 officer and he was serving with Sindh Government as Principal Secretary to Governor Sindh. The rules clearly say “an officer of proven executive ability with a minimum of 18 years Class I service in any Government Aeronautical organisation or service preferably with experience as pilot in command”. Khaqan Murtaza has no experience as a pilot in command nor he has any service experience at a Government Aeronautical organisation. We have to wait and watch how this goes down with the courts. As his appointment is already challenged in the court.
At the same time, the government sent the Secretary Aviation packing and appointed a new secretary Aviation because the system at Aviation division came to a grinding halt where the minister, his secretary and the CEO PIA failed to work together. There were key policy issues where they failed to act and coordinate and the overall aviation sector in Pakistan suffered drastically because of that. Whether it is the matter of crash reports or the matter of pilots licences or the matter of ICAO audit this year that could have brought Pakistan out of this mess or at least provided Pakistan with a roadmap.
Right now Pakistani aviation sector is on a quagmire where the 90 days deadline by ICAO is not very far and there seems to be no urgency or planing in place to get Pakistan out of this mess. At the same time, there is record investment pouring in the aviation sector by domestic players. Air Sial, the flagship project of Sialkot Chamber of Commerce is finally taking shape as it welcomed it operated its proving flight on 19 December. Amid fanfare and festivity, the airline announced flights to five Pakistani cities including Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Peshawar and it’s base Sialkot. The airline brought 3 Airbus A320s to Pakistan. And it will be providing much-needed jobs to over 4000 Pakistani professionals and workers.
Pakistan’s second-largest airline Airblue is eagerly waiting for its two brand new, fresh out of factory Airbus A320 NEOs. Two models are currently going through the flight tests and soon we will get a delivery date. Third Pakistan airlines Serene Air has got its wide-body Airbus A330 in operation but only on domestic flights. The airline plans to launch non stop flights to UK, UAE, China and Saudi Arabia but due to Aviation Division and PCAA “extracurricular” activities, it is stuck in a situation where it has to operate a wide body on the domestic route and keep up a fleet of 5 aircraft that is way too big for its current flight operations.
This shows how much is at stake and how much the new secretary aviation and DG PCAA has already on their plates. The government also has too many issues and in coming days it will be fighting on too many fronts. Amid all of this the fate of 4 Pakistani airlines, hundreds of pilots and thousands of airline staff will be in the hands of these two new appointees. Whatever they do just like their predecessors will have lasting consequences on the future of aviation in Pakistan. 90 days is not a very long period and the way past many months and years went without actions, this should not be the case here. It’s time for action with conviction and urgency like never before. Otherwise, the grave for Pakistan aviation is ready and the vultures are circling the skies.