Why Has PIA Turned Into A National Embarrassment?
PIA continues to feature in newspaper headlines lately; and sadly not for the right reasons. Last week a temporary ban was imposed by China on the national airline for three weeks, when 10 Pakistanis who travelled to the country with a negative coronavirus report tested positive upon arrival. Another PIA plane, Boeing-777, was detained by Malaysian authorities minutes before its departure from Kuala Lumpur airport. According to reports, the plane was confiscated over the national carrier of Pakistan’s failure to pay leases due to a Vietnamese company resulting in the detention of the aircraft under the order of Malaysian court. This does not come as a surprise though, as a month ago, the airline had also got rid of planes due to expensive lease.
PIA has not been shy of controversies in the past. Since last year, it has been under fire for one reason or the other. In December last year, the company decided to sack 3,500 of its employees. This came under its new target to reduce the number of its employees to 7,500-8,000 – almost over half of the total strength – in order to curtail expenses and deficit.
Pakistan has a sad history of aviation accidents dating as far as 1965. This includes a number of domestic airlines including Bhoja and Air Blue. To date, the PIA has witnessed 10 major crashes, including the 2016 PIA crash in which a plane burst into flames while travelling from Northern Pakistan to Islamabad, killing 47 people including the famous Pakistani singer Junaid Jamshed. Another crash in Karachi last May, tragically a day before Eid, killed 97 people. In addition, there are multiple other incidents in which lives of passengers have been endangered including emergency landings and technical faults such as turbine engine failures.
Apart from the technical problems, cases involving PIA staff in drug smuggling, trafficking and stealing resurface from time to time which are not only a source of shame for the nation but a loss face for the airline.
The national carrier has also landed in a lot of hot water when last year the news circulated that 262 out of 860 active pilots in the country working for the airline in both domestic, as well as foreign flights do not hold valid licenses. This is the cause of “Human error” – one of the most common reasons attributed to aircraft disasters in Pakistan – which was also the cause stated by the inquiry report by the aviation authority on the 22 May accident.
So what exactly led to the downfall of an airline which was regarded as the best in the world?
According to aviation experts, many diverse factors play role in PIA’s malfunctioning. For years, many people and groups have held the airline hostage to fulfill their own interests. Appointment in the company are mostly made on the basis of influence instead of merit which has led to not only overstaffing but corruption and inefficiency as well. Poor code of conduct, lack of policies and transparency have played a considerable role too.
The result of all this is that Pakistan’s national airline is accumulating billions in losses. The PIA’s total debt was reported to be 400 billion Pakistani rupees as of June 30, 2019. This year with the pandemic affecting the global airline industry, the situation is expected to only worsen.
While the company is making an effort to revive the airline by reducing staff and acquiring new aircrafts, it still has a long and hard way to go to rise to its former glory. Without accountability and proper policy, it seems to be quite impossible.