Mommi Gull Durrani; elegant hostess of PIA Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), an aggressively progressive airline of 60s and the70s, was once ranked amongst the top five in global aviation. The man responsible for this phenomenal achievement was none other than Air Commodore Malik Nur Khan, managing director of the then, young airline, from 1959 to 1965. No wonder in 1962, Jacqueline Kennedy, the First Lady of the USA, embraced Captain Salehjee at London Heathrow, after a wonderful flight experience on PIA and re-affirmed our slogan: “Great People to Fly With”. Not only PIA but Pakistan was a great country to visit as well. I recall Jackie Kennedy, riding an open buggy from Governor’s house, on Mall road, to Fortress Stadium to watch the horse and cattle Show. An air hostess showed deep reservations on cutting her hair and wearing a skirt, the traditional uniform and outlook for airline hostesses. PIA came up with a superb uniform that had elegant shalwar-kameez in Pakistani flag colours, work-efficient white dupatta and a cap I, then a student at Forman Christian College, ran along the canal bank to climb a tree, near the Mall Bridge, to catch a glimpse of the most graceful lady of her time. The horse and cattle Show had become an international annual event that was graced by the likes of Queen Elizabeth, King Faisal, Jackie Kennedy, the king and queen of Iran and scores of other dignitaries. Hollywood stars like Stewart Granger and Ava Gardner stayed in hotel Faletti’s Lahore for the filming of the classic movie ‘Bhawani Junction’. Even Marlon Brando visited Lahore and Karachi in 1965, with the intentions of shooting a film in Pakistan. Jackie riding a buggy with FM Ayub Khan and Governor Kalabagh PIA had its own glamorous girls, who were no less than Hollywood stars, in particular, Miss Momi Gull Durrani, still considered as the most cherished face of aviation. PIA was the first airline who designed uniforms as per the wishes of its airhostess. Here is an interesting story of Miss Naseem Feroze who appeared for an interview to be an air hostess. She showed deep reservations on cutting her hair and wearing a skirt, the traditional uniform and outlook for airline hostesses. The interview board was shocked but got the message. So painter Laila Shahzada and crew trainer Ms Chausie Fountainer were assigned to design the uniform. Mr Zhou Enlai, Premier of the People’s Republic of China meeting PIA crew The boys and girls of PIA flight crew were like movie stars who attracted attention of crowds at international airports and hotel lobbies. They were all well educated, well groomed and professionally trained to portray a glorious image of PIA and indeed Pakistan. I recall the general manager of a five star property near the Pyramids, pleading to shift PIA cabin crew to Meena House to add glamour to his hotel. Soon after, Air India, Singapore Airlines, Thai Airways International and Malaysian Airlines followed our lead and used their national attire in uniforms. My dream, like many other young Pakistanis of joining PIA, came true in 1970. PIA was now considered as a trend setter in Asia’s aviation industry: * First to introduce Boeing service * First to show in-flight movies * First non-communist airline to fly into Peoples’ Republic of China * First airline to operate 2nd route to China over the mighty Karakoram Range * First airline to go into auto-ticketing. * First airline to start legendary routes like Boutique Route and Pearl Route * First airline to operate to Europe via Moscow * First airline to land in Oslo * First airline to establish a planetarium in Karachi and Lahore * The first airline to operate ‘air safari’ by Boeing * And the first national carrier to service its armed forces in peace and war 1972 – Group photo at Karachi Booking Office. Writer Akhtar Mummunka, 5th from the left, worked in the Marketing Department of PIA and served in Spain & Egypt, during the Golden Era of our National Carrier (1970 – 1984) The boys and girls of PIA flight crew were like movie stars who attracted attention of crowds at international airports and hotel lobbies. They were all well-educated, well groomed and professionally-trained to portray a glorious image of PIA and Pakistan Inducting educated young blood into PIA was the brain child of Mr Shakir Ullah Durrani, known as the mogul of airline industry. PIA hired 20 young executives and eight marketing officers who were given crash course at the Ground Training School, which at that point was the best in the training business. My first field assignment was at the Karachi Booking Office as a sales promotion officer. PIA had an unfair advantage over other competitive carriers like Pan American Airlines, Air France, BOAC (British Airways) Lufthansa, Swiss Air, Alitalia, SAS, MEA, Aeroflot, Olympic Airlines, KLM and Japan Airlines, due to high quality service. All airlines slipped their cockpit and cabin crews in Karachi, the aviation hub, which provided us with the golden opportunity of meeting with the international flight crews. Karachi was peaceful and life was swinging until the general election of December, 1970, believed to be the most fair in our history. Shaikh Mujeeb was in jail, Mr Bhutto cried foul and Mukti Bahini, the guerrilla resistance, became active. The Civil Aviation Authority asked PIA to volunteer young officers to serve as vigilant officers (air guards) on flights to avert hijacking attempt by Mukti Bahini. My first flight as a vigilant officer was on the Pearl Route flying from Karachi to Dacca and on to Bangkok, Manila and Tokyo. Although we travelled as hawk-eyed passengers but really did not know what to expect or do in case of an eventuality of hijacking. It was a saving grace for us that nothing happened on board. The bonus was friendship with a very professional cabin crew with whom we travelled on different routes and stayed in different cities. Former US first lady Jackie Kennedy; a glamorous guest of PIA Bunking, office on weekends is a forgivable offence in peace time but surely not during war. On Friday, 3rd December, 1971, I took a midday flight to Lahore and checked into Hotel Intercontinental, then a property of PIA, offering special discounted rates to its employees. Postage stamp to commemorate Pearl Route Little did I realise that I was caught in crossfire due to the Indo-Pak war of 1971. I got to know from PTV news bulletin, that PIA being an essential service, all its employees must report back to their bases. How? All PIA aircrafts were flown to Zahidan for safety and as such there were no domestic flights. Train seemed the only option. While I waited at the Lahore Railway Station to take this dreadful journey I saw a train arrive from Narowal, full of dead bodies. Yet, I boarded the Karachi-bound train and started an unsure journey. Every now and then we were asked to disembark the train, in pitch darkness, due to air raids by Indians. After 48 hours I arrived in Karachi covered with a thick black cloud of smoke coming out of a burning oil refinery. In 13 days we lost the war and half the country. AVM Zafar Chaudhry, the then managing director of PIA, decided to cut routes, sell aircrafts and fire half the employees. Little did he realise that PIA employees were hardcore professionals who had the capacity to bounce back and bounce back we did! A 70s PIA advertisement If PIA could bounce back in 1971 when half the country was lost, our defense was in shambles and morals were low. We have none of that now. Why should we take the line of least resistance and privatise the national carrier. Remember! Countries without a national carrier are countries without pride and privacy. No wonder, Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the father of the nation had the vision to create an airline (Orient Airways) before creating the nation (Pakistan). PIA people have the spirit and the wings to rise back to sky, provided heavyweight political paratroopers are thrown off their backs. “Zara num do tu yeh matti bari zarkhaiz hey saqi”: Alama Iqbal. I have an out of box solution for revival of PIA without retrenchment of staff and additional financial burden on Government Exchequer, which I will be discussing in my future articles. Published in Daily Times, September 13th 2018.