The Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) government has started to bring in sweeping reforms and as some insiders had always maintained one of the first sectors to get its attention is aviation.
A new division has been created to look after the aviation industry, which up till now had been closely controlled by the Ministry of Defence, highlighting the interest of Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif who is largely credited for the country’s open skies policy.
“This appears to be a very good decision. We had to do away with bureaucratic hurdles to move swiftly with plans and requests like issuing licences to more airlines,” said an aviation industry official. “But let’s hope this doesn’t turn into some game where only a few people are favoured.”
The Aviation Division will be headed by Shujaat Azeem, who has been appointed as the Adviser to the Prime Minister on Aviation Affairs recently, along with other cabinet members.
Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and the Airport Security Force (ASF) will come under the new division.
The move is particularly beneficial for CAA, which had become a dummy organisation over the years.
“From appointments to issuing flying permits and awarding frequencies to airlines, everything was being controlled by the defence ministry. That had greatly compromised our position,” said a senior CAA official.
Over the last five years, some of the leading carriers including British Airways, Lufthansa, Singapore Airlines and Malaysia Airlines have stopped flying to Pakistan.
“We have to come up with policies and incentives to attract more airlines. That requires the will to take decisions based on commercial interests. Things would move very slowly at the ministry when it came to this,” said the official.
On the domestic front, at least four airlines including Indus Air, Rayyan Air, Vision Air and Fly Pakistan Air had been vying to start operations for quite some time. “Here again the ministry had the final word on all the affairs, leading to delays.”
Since its establishment in December 1982, the CAA has seen around 30 organisational heads.
About the adviser
Captain (retd) Shujaat Azeem is the brother of seasoned politician Senator Tariq Azeem. Shujaat is also CEO of Royal Airport Service, which provides ground handling facility to airlines.
A former pilot for assassinated Lebanese Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri, Shujaat is considered close to PML-N chief Nawaz Sharif. He reportedly played a crucial role in establishing links between the Sharif family and the Saudi royal family.
Shujaat has other business interests including a housing colony Sukh Chayn Gardens on the outskirts of Lahore.
Bogged down by financial losses, PIA has become a bone of contention for successive governments. World’s highest employee to aircraft ratio, fiscal leakages and excessive interference of unions in management affairs has made it a difficult-to-run state-owned organisation.
With the Ministry of Defence as its parent, proposals to privatise it were shot down as some people in the government see it as a ‘strategic asset’.
But the real challenge for the adviser will be to help bring back the business, which PIA has lost to Middle-East based carriers. “They are flying more and more flights to all the cities and taking away our passengers. Why can’t the government give us the money to buy more planes and help us fight to get back the traffic,” said an airline official.
Considering the close links PML-N enjoys with Arab states, it remains to be seen if the new adviser can stop the onslaught of their airlines.
A CAA spokesperson said he was not aware of the development. Ministry of Defence spokesperson was not available for comments.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2013.
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