Good news from PIA

Air Vice-Marshal Noor Abbas, the chief executive officer of the Pakistan International Airlines, says the national flag carrier has overcome operational losses in the first quarter of 2019. He says the revenue slightly exceeded the operating costs during the quarter.

The air vice-marshal, who has headed the beleaguered airline since November 2018, says it earned between Rs 8 billion and Rs 8.5 billion a month during the quarter. This compares favourably with around Rs 7 billion a month it earned during the months in 2018.

Though it is still not posting profits, shedding the operational losses is something of an achievement given its record over the recent years. The management seems to have realised the importance of a high seat occupancy rate, which is directly related to the quality of service. Good service in commerical airline operations is about punctuality, adequate frequency on popular routes, respect for all passengers and attractive privileges for frequent flyers.

Having overcome the operational losses, the PIA needs to expand its fleet. This can be done both by getting the grounded planes repaired and by acquiring more aircraft on lease for both domestic and international routes. Currently it has a fleet of 32 planes. It plans to increase the number to 45 over a five-year period. A long-term plan having more ambitious targets is needed given the cut-throat competition in the aviation sector.

Another imperative is cutting its operational expenses by jettisoning non-productive employees. In the past, the airline has been grossly overstaffed. Attempts to address the problem were routinely thwarted by the employees’ union. This newspaper does not support shock layoffs or abrupt sackings as new jobs are hard to come by during an economic slowdown. The staff, flagged to be extra, should instead be accommodated in other public organisations. Another way to make the employees prodcutive is to expand the cargo operations.

The PIA also needs to make the most of a soft visa regime proposed by the government. Working in league with the tourism ministry, it can attract a good number of passengers by marketing sightseeing destinations of the country. It can also help improve domestic tourism, especially in the summer, by increasing the number of flights to the northern parts of Pakistan.

The next quarter’s figures will establish whether the model can be sustained and improved upon or not. *

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