ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif is set to announce an ambitious new aviation policy next month – one that aims to revitalise the ailing national carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), while also facilitating travellers and making air safety a primary focus. A conference of international aviation experts will weigh in on the strategy in Islamabad at the end of this month.
The prime minister’s adviser on aviation, Shujaat Azim, met with Nawaz Sharif on Thursday and shared the details of the new plan with the media. “The government seeks to revert PIA into a profit-making institution within two years and enable the carrier to break even in a year’s time,” he said.
Additionally, PIA’s fleet of operational aircraft will swell from 25 to 46. The new aircraft, mostly narrow body fuel-efficient planes, will be inducted into the fleet on a dry lease. “We are not purchasing any new aircraft,” Azim said. “The aircraft will be 2010 models or newer. These aircraft consume 45% less fuel,” he added.
Currently, PIA has 34 aircraft. Of which, nine are not operational, and the average age of the fleet is 18 years – the average age of international airlines’ fleets is usually less than 10 years and Azim said the government aimed to meet this standard for PIA.
PIA’s current status
PIA has four 26-year-old Boeing 747s. Of which, only two are operational. It also owns 12 Airbus A-310s, of which six are in service, purchased 20 years ago. PIA also owns three 26-year-old Boeing 737s. Of which, two are serviceable. Among its latest fleet are nine Boeing 777s and six ATR 42 aircraft, aged 8 and 7 years, respectively.
The fleet of the future
Four new Boeing 777s will join the nine Boeings that PIA already owns. The new plan envisages a refurbishment of the current 777s fleet to the highest level for long haul flights. Additionally, 17 new Airbus A320 20s or Boeing 737 900ERs and four ATR 72-500s with a capacity of 66 passengers will join the six existing ATR 42s (which have a capacity of 44 passengers). The fleet will be revamped by July at the earliest.
Going the wrong way
PIA currently travels to 23 domestic and 30 international destinations. According to Azim, one of the main reasons for PIA’s significant financial losses [Rs87 million per day as parliament was informed) is the use of wrong aircraft for these routes. “Our present fleet is geared for medium and long haul routes,” he explained. “However, 62% of our passengers travel on short haul routes – we have thus been using fuel guzzlers aged 20 to 26 years for short routes.”
According to PIA, 84% of the airline’s routes are short to medium distance while only 16% are long haul routes (UK, USA, Canada and Europe). Saudi Arabia and the Far East, considered medium distance routes, account for 22% of routes. The bulk of traffic heads to the Gulf, regional countries and domestic routes, with a total of 62%.
With no short haul aircraft available to cover these routes, PIA is using 777s and A310 aircraft for these routes. Azim says fuel costs for the older A310 models total $5500 per hour while the newer 737 900ER models consume less than $2500 worth of fuel per hour. Under the new plan, the national carrier will utilise 777 aircraft for long haul routes, A320-232 for medium haul routes and A320, 737NG and ATR aircraft for travel to the Gulf and domestic and regional routes.
According to Azim, Rs72 billion per year will be generated in revenue following the induction of the new aircraft, with 85% of seat utilisation and 12.5 hours of aircraft utilisation per day.
PIA currently employs 19,418 men and women, with a ratio of 776 employees per aircraft – one of the highest ratios in the world; the average ratio worldwide is 150 per aircraft. Thus, Azim said the government has decided to conduct a performance audit of the carrier through international firms, in order to circumvent any political pressure. He added that perks such as free air travel for present and past board members, their families and the PIA chairman, have been curbed.
A revamp of facilities
The PM has approved the expansion of Allama Iqbal International Airport in Lahore, Azim said. After the PC-1 is made, it will be placed before the board for approval. Lahore airport will have an ILS Cat 3C system, enabling the aircraft to land at zero visibility. This system, Azim said, will be in place within the next 120 days, well ahead of winter this year, when many flights are diverted from the city due to weather conditions such as fog. This winter, 102 flights were not able to arrive at Lahore airport, thus causing billion of rupees of losses.
Most modernised airports across the world have CAT III Instrument Landing System; while Islamabad’s Benazir International Airport possesses an old version – the CAT 2 system – no other airport in the country has this system so far.
CAT III and CAT II approaches require the use of an auto-land system for the aircraft, which essentially means that the autopilot lands the airplane, while the pilots monitor the aircraft and autopilot closely for any detected anomalies during the approach. CAT III landings on the most modern aircraft do not require the pilots to see the runway prior to landing. Most commercial airliners and crews are certified for CAT III.
Additionally, the government plans to cut down on kiosks in the main lounges in order to create greater space in the lounges, increase the number of counters at departure lounges in Lahore and Islamabad’s airports and introduce passenger-friendly immigration systems. While a new airport will be completed by 2016, Benazir International Airport will be upgraded, with a new taxiway ready in a couple of months.
The CAA has also served notices to all airlines to remove their non-operational aircraft from Karachi’s airport by the end of March.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 3rd, 2014.