Unpacking the PIA fiasco
The ban on Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) from flying to the European Union (EU), alongside Vietnam grounding 27 Pakistani pilots, has brought great embarrassment to the entire nation. Even the Gulf countries have asked the government of Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf (PTI) to give them the details of those Pakistani pilots who are flying their planes in different Arab countries. PIA, which was already suffering a financial loss, has now lost its brand value as well courtesy to Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s presser on the Karachi plane crash which occured in May. Sarwar presented a list claiming that 262 pilots in the country have false credentials and will be grounded immediately.
Sarwar’s statements proved to be a suicidal attack on his own ministry as the global community is not only banning the national airline but it is gradually stopping Pakistani pilots from flying planes abroad. One only needs basic common sense to understand that such announcements should not be made public so callously since they can have catastrophic ramifications on the careers of the pilots working abroad and on the national airline. It is hard to find a single country which after an aeroplane crash declared almost every pilot in the nation guilty of holding dubious credentials.
There is a proper procedure involved through which a thorough investigation is conducted into such matters, and if the pilot is deceased then his lawyer, on behalf of his family members, is allowed to participate in the proceedings. Surprisingly, instead of focusing on the flight PK 8303 crash, the aviation minister brought every single pilot into controversy and eventually landed PIA in trouble. Even if Sarwar’s allegations are true, the question arises as to how the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), which is responsible for renewing the licenses of pilots every six months, can be bailed out of its criminal negligence in renewing the licenses of pilots without proper verifications.
In fact, it is the CAA which checks the required experience of flying hours of the pilots and also takes their written examination. Hence, if pilots with fake credentials were hired and recruited by PIA, how can the CAA not be accused as an accomplice in this crime? Furthermore, the list presented by Sawar is full of discrepancies since PIA claims that out of the 141 PIA pilots alleged to have dubious credentials 36 of them have already retired or moved out. Naturally, the credentials of all their pilots should now be checked so that they can address this matter head on. Evidently, Sarwar failed to take into account the ramifications the list would have on an already financially weak airline like PIA.
Perhaps a lack of global aviation industry laws and Sarwar’s attempt to appease Imran Khan by accusing previous governments of hiring pilots with dubious credentials have proven to be costly for Pakistan, but this is not the first time. From the fiasco on the foreign policy fronts, to the wheat and sugar scandal, and the recent oil fiasco, the current regime has left no stone unturned in order to ensure that it shoots itself in the foot. At a time when the aviation industry is already facing a financial recession due to the dwindling demand for air travel due to Covid-19, the list unleashed by Sarwar has brought the national airline to the brink of collapse. Interestingly, Sarwar’s own educational credentials were declared to be dubious when in 2013 his membership of the National Assembly was suspended by the then Chief Justice of Pakistan Iftikhar Mohamad Chaudry over an unverified diploma from Bahalwalpur University.
In any case, the damage has been done and now for the next six months not only will PIA be unable to operate in the EU and the UK but Paksitani pilots serving anywhere in the world will face enormous pressure and difficulties in their careers. There has not been a single occasion where the lack of political wisdom and understanding of global affairs of the PTI government and its ministers has not brought embarrassment for Pakistan, and one wonders how incompetent individuals like Sarwar and, for that matter, Sheikh Rasheed, who over the years let the rot set in at Pakistan Railways, have been awarded with such crucial portfolios. Additionally, the government's plan to potentially sell Roosevelt Hotel is also bringing in stern criticism because during a global recession, and given the ongoing PIA fiasco, this hotel will be sold at a much lesser price than it would have been under normal circumstances.
Are we going to see another crony indirectly buying the Roosevelt Hotel, and is there another airline ready to take over PIA? A license for another airline was purchased by the powerful quarters quite a while ago. In any case, from now on no one in the global community will trust Pakistani pilots, and passengers will be reluctant to travel on the national airline fearing that an unprofessional pilot with a dubious degree and uncertain flying record is in charge of the flight.
The way things are going under the current government it seems that PIA may not be the only casualty, and the economy and other institutions will also shoulder an irreparable loss. One hopes that this prediction is proved wrong, but it seems that PIA’s image in the global aviation arena has been irreparably shattered. Even if after six months it is allowed to operate in the EU and the UK, it will be hard for the airline to regain its brand value. If the PTI government wanted to privatise the national airline there were other decent ways to go about doing that, but this has instead only brought embarrassment and humiliation, not only for the airlines and the pilots, but for the entire country.