De-livering PIA

The national carrier needs professionals to run it, not politicians and the dreaded technocrats

Kamal Siddiqi April 09, 2018
The writer, a former editor of The Express Tribune, is director of the Centre for Excellence in Journalism at IBA, Karachi. He tweets @tribunian

Our national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines, has introduced a new livery with its logo and design to include a painting of the Markhor. This will be visible on the aircraft tail, while the cockpit of PIA planes integrates Pakistan’s flag, accompanied by the PIA logo.

The new design comes at a time when another white elephant is about to be inaugurated — the Islamabad airport, where billions have been spent on a facility that doesn’t expect to host traffic to this capacity for the next 10 years. But like most decisions taken with a provincial mindset, there is usually never money for projects that matter.

But coming back to the Markhor look, which in my opinion is a terrible design. To begin with, it is money wasted. Adviser to the Prime Minister on Aviation Sardar Mahtab Ahmad Khan inaugurated the new livery of PIA on Friday in Islamabad. The honourable adviser has no background in aviation or in marketing. The whole idea of using a goat to promote an airline seems ludicrous. Granted that Qatar Airways has an Oryx as a symbol, we could have come up with a better animal if it were an animal we had to choose. On a lighter side, given PIA’s diminishing fortunes, maybe the bird to choose should have been the Houbara bustard, which — like PIA, the Arabs are fast driving into extinction.

To be fair, it’s not the Markhor that’s the problem. The airline had a distinctive green tail, which identified it all over the world as Pakistan’s national carrier. One would have to have a good reason to do away with it.

More important, however, is the lesson that the gimmicks won’t work. PIA needs to fix itself internally. A recent visit to its main reservation centre in Sidco centre in Karachi is a case in point. The seats are broken. The floor is cracked at places. The staff still uses dot-matrix printers. The cashier continued to smoke despite many no-smoking signs within the premises. And yet we are spending millions in livery.

Where is the accountability? The national carrier started a premier service which ended with egg on its face. The service cost the airline more than the losses it claimed it was making on its New York sector. Both were shut down and at the end no one was held accountable.

What is it that we need from PIA? Let us first understand that the bulk of PIA’s international passengers comprise ethnic traffic. These are the people of Pakistani origin who either live in the West or in the Gulf. The only reason they fly the airline is because it’s a direct flight to their destination. But PIA is doing its best to do away with that advantage too.

When it comes to the PIA passengers, most will be unable to identify a Markhor even if it stood before them and looked them in the eye. What was the Australian consultant thinking? Look at the qualities of the animal. The Markhor is an elusive animal, usually seen only at great heights. It is shy and does not like the presence of humans. Possibly true of our inflight staff but one wonders how much was charged to bring home this truth.

Our ethnic traffic wants a reliable airline which flies them in comparative comfort from their adopted lands to Pakistan. All they ask for is a good meal, some special care for children, unaccompanied women and the elderly. A bonus is an entertainment system on board that works. A good flight for them is one which leaves and lands on time, feeds them and also brings in their luggage without locks being broken and their personal belongings pilfered.

In my travel with PIA, one of my biggest complaints has been that the food is not just of poor quality but that we are being served items that no one can recognise. Take for example the croissant that makes it on board most meals. Has the flight kitchen called it a day? The signature biryani is oily and un-edible. And that’s just the beginning of my complaints.

The national carrier needs professionals to run it, not politicians and the dreaded technocrats. And while at it, please bring back the aircraft that stands abandoned in some airport in Europe. It’s our property. We want it back.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 9th, 2018.

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cautious | 3 years ago | Reply If PIA were a horse you would shoot it. PIA has no strategic value and other airlines would quickly fill the demand if the govt closed it down. The govt has wasted Billions trying to turn this airline around - and bring in another professional to turn it around is a waste of resources.
Malik Tariq | 3 years ago | Reply The cost of new Livery is more than $185,000 per aircraft if you count the duration of grounding the aircraft for an extended period of time and revenues it could have earned if it were operating flights. If a professional management was at helm they could have spent this money on upgrading and getting operational the Inflight Entertainment System which are not functioning for more than a year. Unfortunately restructuring the airline no longer seems to be objective of this management and sitting government; both performing role of Undertakers. Somebody needs to investigate who benefitted financially for designing new livery?
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