After days of procrastination, the German-led management of our national airline, Pakistan International Airlines, has finally agreed to launch an investigation into press reports that the airline flew an international flight with seven extra people who had to stand in the aisle for the entire six hours from Karachi to Madinah.
These magnificent seven passengers, believed to be employees or relations of employees, boarded the B-777 on handwritten boarding passes and were allowed to sit in the jump seats and stand in the aisle during the entire length of the flight.
How could these passengers board in the first place? Given the security protocols in place, one wonders whether the FIA (Immigration) and the Airport Security Force were sleeping when they allowed those with non-computerised boarding passes to board.
It comes as no surprise that the names of these seven passengers were not on the final passenger list, which in itself is both a violation of aviation laws but also of local immigration and security laws.
The captain of the flight blames the senior purser. The senior purser blames the captain. And yet neither of them reported the matter after the flight landed in Madinah and neither did they take it up with the management upon their return to Karachi. It seems both employees were under pressure from the employee union, who seem to dictate how the airline is run more than the management.
When such incidents come to light, PIA is again brought into focus and questions are asked about its performance and future. Despite tall claims of turning the PIA around, the Nawaz government has done nothing of the sort.
To begin with, if the intention was to clean up the airline, one wondered why Shujaat Azeem was appointed by Nawaz Sharif as the de-facto head of the airline for three painful years. This put the airline back by decades.
Apart from being brother of Senator Tariq Azeem who changed loyalties from PML-Q to PML-N soon after the Sharif government came to power, Shujaat Azeem was also the co-owner of Royal Airport Services which operated at Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi and Peshawar airports. While he claimed he had resigned from the company, the fact was that RAS handled terminal services, cargo/ramp and Airport Traffic Control. Among its clients were Saudi Airlines, Etihad Air, Gulf Air and Qatar Air. And this man was also given charge of running the national airline.
The second conflict of interest was Azeem’s reported business partner, Chaudhry Munir, the man who has been awarded the construction of the new airport at Fatehjhang while the third conflict of interest was Azeem’s Canadian citizenship. Azeem was a mid-level officer in Pakistan Air Force but was fired for holding a dual nationality. The Supreme Court also took notice of this. But our prime minister continued to keep this gentleman to run the national airline.
After the departure of Tariq Azeem, the prime minister appointed Bernd Hildenbrand as COO of PIA. Soon after a media campaign was launched against the German national over his salary package and lack of security clearance among other things.
More recently a newspaper reported that investigators have been looking into the PIA plane (Airbus A 300) being rented/leased to a filmmaker for the remake of a film based on Operation Entebbe, which among other places will be shot in Malta.
These are smaller issues when we should be asking bigger questions which are left to our imagination. Investigators have started a probe after the news regarding the lease/renting of the aircraft for the production of the controversial film surfaced, the real issues remain ignored.
Safety standards are compromised by staff under pressure from unions who in turn get their strength from the ruling party. The airline is being milked not just by employees but also through questionable deals on sales and supply contracts. The food served on flights is sub-standard but no one is questioning this. Elected and non-elected leaders are using the airline for personal errands – and yet there is silence.
The bottom line is that things aren’t getting better for PIA. Possibly it’s too early to say anything but the question is how long will taxpayers keep on paying for the experiments of our lawmakers. We need to sell the airline and pray for its future. That seems the only solution.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2017.
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