Our national airline, PIA, continues to be in the news for all the wrong reasons. The British authorities are already thinking of long-term punitive action against the national air carrier owing to the frequency with which drugs are being smuggled on board its aircraft. On this end, little is done to arrest those responsible.
The lack of honesty and professionalism is frightening. Last week, we also read how a former PIA union leader and now senator of the ruling party passed himself off as airline staffer to get free accommodation in London.
In Pakistan, where elected members of parliament face criminal charges and are de-seated for submitting fake degrees, employees of a statutory state owned asset like PIA, continue to remain on the payroll even after it has been established that they submitted fake educational certificates.
Employees facing serious criminal charges such as rape, smuggling and money-laundering manage to not only remain on staff but are successful in getting contracts for re-employment beyond the age of superannuation.
What is the role of Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), the aviation sector regulator? In a recent Senate Committee hearing on PIA, its CEO in response to Senator Sherry Rehman’s questions admitted that the captain involved in the incident of allowing a Chinese female passenger to sit in the cockpit of PK 853 from Tokyo to Beijing had charges of sexual harassment against him as well as the allegation of submitting a fake degree. But no action was taken.
In fact, all three PIA employees involved in major incidents in 2017 have interesting records. In the case of the other two, the Senate, the upper house of our bicameral legislature, was told that the captain who violated flight safety by carrying 7 passengers over and above aircraft capacity also faces allegations of possessing a fake degree. The captain who slept in Business Class for over two hours was caught by the Customs Department in 2014 for smuggling iPhones on arrival from London.
Unlike airlines in the Gulf and countries like Switzerland and Belgium, PIA has more than the required ethnic traffic to survive and break even despite the fact that it is a dry airline as compared to regional competitors.
There was a time PIA prided itself on its staff. But from 2007 onwards and 2008-2012, it is estimated that the already surplus-staffed airline was overburdened by another 300 fake degree holders.
The combined impact of overcapacity created by granting traffic rights to regional airlines subsidised by rich Emirati states and political appointments combined with surplus employees, fake degree holders, pilferage and massive corruption within its executive corridors led by the upper echelons dominated by mediocrity made it a lethal recipe to drive PIA to a perpetual state of insolvency from the year 2007 onwards.
In 2008, the appointment of semi-literate cronies, with a controversial baggage of financial and administrative improprieties and criminal charges that should have resulted in their termination, were placed at the helm of affairs only to witness total accumulated losses of the airline hiking to a level where total liabilities exceed total assets rendering the airline technically insolvent.
The government needs to understand that if pilot skills alone were required to manage an airline, Richard Branson, a CPL holder and a keen aviation enthusiast, who owns Virgin Air would not have hired the best qualified managers from universities of repute with vast commercial aviation industry experience to run his airline.
Instead of enforcing strict financial and administrative discipline and accountability, the present management has failed to present its Audited Annual Financial Accounts from year 2015 onwards. In the most recent first AGM of PIACL held in June 2017, after PIA changed its status, Chairman PIAC Irfan Elahi stated that the “Annual Accounts for FY 2016 could not be finalized mainly due to the conversion of PIAC into PIACL and an exercise undertaken to bring a change in the accounting policy by shifting from cost value model to fair value model. These reasons delayed the finalization of Annual Accounts of FY 2015 which rolled over a delay in finalization of subsequent accounts”. It is a mandatory requirement that every company listed on the PSX must declare Annual Financial Report at its AGM.
Cosmetic measures like change in uniform or aircraft livery reflect a lack of professionalism within the management and the government — which despite so many years in power is unable to fix things in the airline.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 12th, 2017.
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