Hotel Mena House Oberoi By the end of 1982, most of the middle management, senior management and top management of aviation technocrats had left PIA. Major General Rahim Khan replaced Mr. Enver Jamall as Chairman, and Air Vice Marshal Waqar Azeem replaced Mufti Muhammad Salim as the Managing Director. Air Commodore M. Salim, a close relative of General Zia’s, was appointed as the General Manager of PIA in New York. These gentlemen may have been good at their respective jobs but they were clueless about the airline business. Airline business is extremely sensitive and highly scientific because an airline seat, much like a hotel room, is a perishable commodity. It cannot be stored. Similarly, salesmen are not soldiers; they need motivation, not orders to perform. Over the years, PIA was managed by people with the right connections but the wrong background. They all failed. Expecting a PIA captain to run a commercial organization is like asking a locomotive driver to run an entire railway system. I have known managing directors asking their subordinates to teach them how to run PIA. Who would respect such bosses? Unlike Air Marshal Nur Khan, the new management lacked the ability to manage highly skilled employees. To compensate for their incompetence, they followed a policy of creating fear and job insecurity among the employees. Even the directors and general managers in the head office were afraid to support their field force, and as a result, the initiative to sell was gone. Left to right: Mr Saad Ibrahim, Akhtar Mummunka, Mrs Saad Ibrahimand a UN Diplomat at the Pakistan Food Festival. Under Air Marshal Nur Khan, PIA had been an aggressively progressive airline, but then the expansion plans stopped. Pan Am World Airways and TWA (Trans World Airlines) are classic examples of airlines that shut down due to the slashing of routes. PIA followed a perfect recipe for disaster by cutting routes and diverting flights from established stations like Frankfurt to Zurich on Trans Atlantic Route. Over the years, PIA was managed by people with the right connections but the wrong background. They all failed. Expecting a PIA captain to run a commercial organisation is like asking a locomotive driver to run an entire railway system Penny wise and pound foolish austerity measures taken by various managements proved counterproductive. Political appointees gave foreign airlines access to PIA’s backyard for their own personal gains. Thai Airways International now operates nearly 15 flights a week from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad to Bangkok and beyond, whereas PIA operates none. Likewise, the Gulf carriers are given traffic rights from every Pakistani city and town, in exchange for providing catering service. Today, Thai Airways is our national carrier to the East, while Emirates, an airline launched under PIA employees training, is our national carrier to the West. Left to Right: Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Dr, Envar Sejjad, Akhtar Mummunka & Kishwar Naheed. Cairo was an important station on PIA’s transatlantic route, with four Jumbo flights transiting through each week. There were also regular cargo flights carrying fresh fruits and vegetables from Egypt to various European destinations. It was in Cairo that PIA’s cockpit crew stayed at Hotel Ramsis Hilton, and the cabin crew lodged at Hotel Novotel. It was for the slip of cabin crew that Mr. Kuval Nain, General Manager of Mena House Oberoi, a five star property near the Pyramids, came to me with a very lucrative offer. Mr. Nain was born at the Faletti’s Hotel in Lahore, when the property belonged to the Oberoi family. His love for Lahore was a great motivating factor in his keenness for hosting the PIA crew at Mena House. He offered PIA exclusive transport for crew pick and drop and a much lower room rate compared to Novotel. For the fifty odd rooms, per night, required for the cabin crew, PIA saved thousands of US$ per month by shifting to Mena House. AVM Waqar Azeem with Cockpit Crew. The salary of PIA’s Egyptian staff had not been increased for the last three years, despite repeated promises by the management. According to Egyptian law, the staff could not go on strike but could “go slow”. Egyptians, by nature, are very slow and when an Egyptian “goes slow”, it’s the equivalent of a strike. The staff problem had to be addressed urgently but the situation in the head office was such that I could not even expect support from my own marketing department. Nevertheless, I went to the head office in Karachi to plead a genuine case on behalf of the Cairo station. PIA would provide chefs, ingredients and cultural troupe, while the partner hotel would provide accommodation, kitchen facilities, local promotion and a number of free meals to our guests The Finance Director, luckily, was very positive and he immediately approved the proposed increase in salaries, making the increase effective as of the previous month to compensate the staff. But for that generosity I was asked to resolve the issue of transfer of funds. Due to the shortage of foreign exchange, the State Bank of Egypt had restricted all airlines to transfer of funds out of Egypt. PIA also had a couple of million Egyptian Pounds in it’s account that could not be transferred. That was the main reason for the crew slip in Cairo to utilize those funds locally. This Add reflects PIA’s Golden Era of expansion. The Egyptian staff was jubilant to have their salaries increased and were willing to go out of their way to help PIA. Our assistant station manager, Madam Zizi, who could easily pass for Cleopatra, was married to a serving Egyptian general, making her the most effective person at Cairo airport. She made sure that our flights were not delayed anymore. Had David Lean seen Muhammad Shahata, our sales manager, he certainly would have chosen him over Omer Sharif for the role of Ali in his epic film, “The Lawrence of Arabia.” Mr. Saad Ibrahim, the senior most local manager, had been with PIA since the Cairo crash and was considered the guru of the aviation industry in Egypt. It was through his connections that we got all our funds transferred to PIA’s account within a few months. Fifi Abdo performing belly dance In December 1982 my Urdu travelogue, “Paris 205 Kilometres”, was published by Sange Meel publications, and Kishwer Naheed organised the book launch in Lahore. Mr. Ahmed Nadeem Qasmi presided over the function that was attended by the Pakistani literary elite, including Faiz Ahmad Faiz, Ashfaq Ahmad Khan, Bano Qudsia, Zaheer Babar, Dr. Agha Sohail, Zeeno, Munu Bhai, Mustansar Husain Tarar, Amjad Islam Amjad, Ata ul Haq Qasmi, Azhar Javed, Asghar Nadeem Syed, Dr. Envar Sejjad and Zulifqar Tabish. A friend organised a dinner party after the function and Kishwar Naheed asked me to personally phone and invite Faiz Sahib for the party. Faiz Sahib gave a very poetic reply to my telephonic invitation, “Bhaee, jaam uthaney ko shaam hee kyun zaroori hey?” Left to right: Bano Qudsia, Kishwar Naheed, Ahmad Nadeem Qasmi, Akhtar Mummunka & Zulifqar Tabish, during book launch, “Paris 205 Kilometers”. The Pakistan Food Festival was a unique concept introduced by PIA to promote Pakistani cuisine and culture in foreign countries. PIA would provide chefs, ingredients and cultural troupe, while the partner hotel would provide accommodation, kitchen facilities, local promotion and a number of free meals to our guests. After the week-long festival, the income was equally divided between the hotel and PIA. I exploited the Lahori sentiments of Mr. Kaval Nain and organised a Pakistan Food Festival at Meena House Oberoi. The Egyptian Minister of Aviation was the chief guest while the entire diplomatic core and travel trade was present on opening night. Cairo being the Headquarter of BCCI’s (Bank of Credit and Commerce International) Africa operations had over 100 Pakistani families stationed there. Every night, we had full capacity of Pakistani and Egyptian families enjoying Pakistani food and folklore. As the head of every multinational and foreign bank in Egypt was a Pakistani, the festival was extended at their request. Mr Kaval Nain added his personal gift to Pakistan Food Festival and made Fifi Abdo perform her belly dance for our guests. In Egypt, Fifi Abdo as an oriental dancer had the same status as Umme Kulsum in singing and Omer Sharif in acting. Published in Daily Times, November 17th 2018.