Saturday, November 12, 2011

Pakistan International Airline engulfed by financial woes, unions’ wrath

LAHORE - The cash-strapped national flag carrier is facing serious hardship in running smooth routine and Haj operations.

On one hand, foreign aviation organisations are fast losing their trust in Pakistan International Airline (PIA)’s financial health; while on the other, various employee associations are giving tough time to the management on virtually every issue.

Aviation industry sources have disclosed that a Saudi Arabian vendor had asked the national flag carrier to release payment of $4 million outstanding fuel bills. PIA was warned that if it did not clear the outstanding bill in 72 hours, it would stop fuel supply to PIA’s aircraft at Jeddah airport, which could jeopardise the smooth post-Haj operation.

Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation (CAO-IRI) has already closed its airspace for PIA aircraft over a delayed outstanding payment of $0.6 million, which resulted in that the national flag carrier is incurring the higher fuel cost for Lahore- and Islamabad-bound return Haj flights as aircrafts have to take a slightly longer route over Oman’s airspace, sources maintained.

Apart from financial irregularities and mismanagement, the national flag carrier is facing hard resistance from several staff unions and associations. In a recent episode, PIA Managing Director Captain Nadeem Yousufzai had to surrender before the employee associations by scrapping the proposal of wet lease of two aircraft.

The sources said the national flag carrier had planned to acquire two Airbus A320 on wet lease, which meant PIA had to pay hourly rent for aircraft, complete crew, maintenance and insurance (ACMI). However, upon protest by Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association (PALPA) and a number of other staff associations, the management scrapped the proposal.

As PIA is passing through its most difficult times, PALPA and other PIA unions are of the view that instead of acquiring aircraft on lease, the airline should strive to restore six grounded aircraft. In a recent meeting with the PIA MD, union office-bearers asked the management that if aircraft acquisition on lease was unavoidable, the airline should opt for some Boeing variant for which PIA had expertise and overhauling or maintenance facilities. In another move, PIA’s senior management decided to constitute a Counter Corruption Committee to rein in leakages. But, interestingly, PALPA, Society of Aircraft Engineers PIA (SAEP), Flight Engineers Association (FENA) and Aircraft Technicians Association of PIA (ATAP) again opposed the development by withdrawing their names from the committee. Office-bearers of employee associations are of the view that the committee is comprised of non-serious representatives who could not bring any change by preventing corruption.
Talking to Pakistan Today, a senior PALPA member said all professional bodies, including PALPA, wanted to ensure transparency in the airline’s affairs, but PIA management had to be serious about it.

He said earlier the national flag carrier acquired two air crafts from a Greek company on wet lease in which millions of dollars were wasted, as none of the two aircraft joined Haj operation. Despite several attempts, PIA’s spokesman could not be reached for a comment.

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