And the plot thickens…

Last week, our national carrier became the laughing stock of the world when one of its aircrafts was impoun­ded by Malaysian authorities at Kuala Lumpur airport over a $14 million lease dispute. The wretched episode reflects abysmally on the competence of not just the management of the Pakistan International Airline (PIA) and the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) but even the country’s diplomatic mission in Malaysia.

Frantic efforts to resolve the national embarrassment have now led to an out-of-court settlement with Irish aircraft broker where PIA appears set to cough up an outstanding payment of around $2 million. The PIA’s council could not convince the court to regard the ongoing COVID pandemic as force majeure that rendered the airline incapable of meeting its financial burdens.

The fact that the flag carrier would have to pay this “maintenance cost” despite not having flown the plane speaks volumes about the hurried manner in which the agreement appeared to have been signed.

However, it’s not just another hole in the finances that should alert the higher-ups. It’s the never-ending saga of embarrassment making dreams come true for headline writers. Only last year, Federal Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan recklessly unleashed himself upon the world and claimed that more than 30 per cent of the civilian pilots in the country held “fake” licences. To this day, we continue to suffer from the big question mark his statement posed on the credibility of our pilots and the safety of our entire aviation sector.

This, on the heels of a deadly crash in a residential neighbourhood in Karachi that killed 97 people, put a hold on any and all governmental plans to revive the state-run carrier.

PIA is a tale synonymous with dysfunctionality. Oft-seen labour strife, self-permeating red tape, frequent changes in leadership (there have been six chief executive officers in the last five years), unsafe airlines, and dubious licensing protocols seem to the be the rule of the day. Gone are the days when the green fins used to dominate skies the world over. The last few decades have seen consecutive governments treating the airline as a reward for loyal political workers. Overstaffing continues to be an exigent problem riddling the management.

Being perpetually neck-deep in financial ignominy–the carrier reported a net income over a decade earlier–PIA has had to constantly beg for lifelines from the governments.

With no end in sight to the pandemic currently engulfing the entire world, the skies ahead look anything but clear for Pakistani aviation. While governments around the globe focus on rebuilding their airlines with new protocols, financial packages, sustainable investments and safe innovations, PIA is busy putting out ridiculous fires, one after another!

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