Sky is the limit: New aviation policy set to revamp PIA

Published: March 3, 2014
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). PHOTO: FILE.

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). PHOTO: FILE.

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.

The workforce

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.

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Reader Comments (18)

  • XYZ
    Mar 3, 2014 - 3:40AM



  • H. Khan
    Mar 3, 2014 - 4:15AM

    Good going.Few unanswered questions: where is money for this fleet modernisation and what were the ex=Chairmen of PIA doing. I hope the tender process will be transparent and staff will be laid off as at current level of staffing PIA will remain in losses.


  • Ahmad
    Mar 3, 2014 - 6:14AM

    Only one policy will work for PIA. Privatize it and fire all politcally-recruited employees.


  • papi
    Mar 3, 2014 - 6:39AM

    PIA needs to make Karachi airport its hub and upgrade the airport. This will be more business friendly for it. But as usual, PML-N’s Punjabiat will come before Pakistan.


  • Mirza
    Mar 3, 2014 - 8:04AM

    We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are several budget airlines already in service and making money. Just to name a couple Air Asia, South West, Jet Blue. Most of them have only one type of fuel efficient planes. That also makes their service and repair easy and one set of tools and parts are required with min training.
    The more imp fact is these do not have three classes but only coach. All flights going to middle east need only one class and no free first class for the officials. The long haul airlines mostly have two classes and business would suffice. No freeloader be allowed to travel in higher class which should be sold on the Net to revenue passengers only. If PIA employs really need a job they have to give up this luxury of free lifetime travel in first class. Business seats are sold at 4-6 times that of coach class and they can easily be sold via Net (not the old connected travel agents) at slightly discounted rate. Nobody would refuse business seat at two to three or four times the cost of coach.


  • Majid
    Mar 3, 2014 - 8:10AM

    Wow! I only dreamt about these things. All the best PIA!


  • blackRose
    Mar 3, 2014 - 8:27AM

    Only Mian sahb have ability to do it not a talker but a do-er in true sense..keep moving ahead mian sahb don’t care critics.God bless you..Recommend

  • KH
    Mar 3, 2014 - 9:28AM

    Good news


  • Ex Pakistan
    Mar 3, 2014 - 10:38AM

    This is not an aviation policy. it is policy for revival of PIA. Aviation policy cannot be developed with one airline in focus. there are more than one player and naming one clearly shows others dont have a level playing field… especially when we know PIA is as dead as a horse can be.


  • Shafaq
    Mar 3, 2014 - 5:43PM

    Last hope………………..lets see. Best of Luck Mr. Azim.


  • Shahid
    Mar 3, 2014 - 8:38PM

    Privatization is the only solution.Lease it to Danata Which manages Emirates airlines with full powers. In two years they can convert PIa As the best airlines in region againRecommend

  • unbelievable
    Mar 3, 2014 - 10:28PM

    So your going to rebuild the airline just to turn around and sell it? I suspect govt has figured out that PIA might have zero value and doesn’t want to expose to the public that after years of pumping millions/billions into PIA nobody wants to buy something that has antiquated airplanes, lousy reputation, loses money, and is overstaffed with political cronies. Best solution – put it on the market “as is” and if nobody wants to buy it then shut it down.


  • A. Khan
    Mar 4, 2014 - 8:23AM

    That’s one way to throw away good money after bad. Employee to aircraft ratio says it all. 776 per aircraft compared to global average of 150. That’s not an airline, its an employment exchange for political appointees. And the poor tax payers are footing the bill for government’s largess to its own chamchas.

    I am not holding my breath waiting for PIA to improve. Somebody should put a bullet to its head i.e. sell it off. ASAP.


  • Jamil
    Mar 4, 2014 - 9:00AM

    Another chance for some blue eyed guys close to high ups, “make the hey while the sun shines”


  • Kamran Khan
    Mar 4, 2014 - 9:52AM

    PIA would have been revamped if it were an airline however the last five years of corruption party plunder and loot era transformed it into a wadera’s goth rather than an airline


  • Imtiaz Alam
    Mar 4, 2014 - 4:08PM

    PIA Employees enjoying at the expense of the Taxpayer.Recommend

  • malang
    Mar 7, 2014 - 1:13AM

    check the passengers loads and flights of the pia network, the flights from lahore islamabad are full to europe and middle east and the number of flights are now increased and all flights are going packed. this is not punjabiat but actual profit plan, i think there is a mohajriat/ naptism in your mind.


  • Saud
    Jun 28, 2014 - 3:22PM

    What convinced the government to lease the obsolete -500 varient of the ATR 72? The newer -600 varient features an LCD glass cockpit, and is 5% more fuel efficient than its predecessor.


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