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Arif Abbasi, former managing director, PIA speaks to PAGE

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Sep 04 - 10, 2000

Arif Ali Khan Abbasi worked for PIA as Managing Director for about 6 months i.e. October 12, 1999 to May 11, 2000 without any formal contract. In fact he had been working for PIA in different times and different positions including Managing Director. Abbasi described his last assignment as a daily wager due to absence of any formal contract.

Giving a brief about his 6-month stay in PIA, Arif Abbasi told PAGE that problems of PIA are complex. Interference of Islamabad in day to day operations is not conducive to effective management. He felt that PIA couldn't be made efficient if this confusion is allowed to continue.

Abbasi said his tasks and priorities were largely dictated by the conditions obtaining at PIA at the time of taking over.

Spelling out the conditions prevailing in PIA when he took over, Abbasi said that the overdraft and other financial liabilities against PIA were Rs18 billion and some of which were at exorbitant rates. At the time of his taking over 8 aircraft were on the ground and not operational. A leased Airbus had its engines removed and missing. There was a total financial mess in the airline and the company was not in a position to serve the debts and payments of other bills.

Consequently, Boeing and General Electric had stopped supplying spare parts for Airplane and Engines because of non-payments of their bills. PIA did not have funds or any credit line available for payment of daily allowances to its crew members abroad. At the time of taking over, Y2K (Millennium Bug) problem was posing a serious threat as it had not been adequately addressed while time was running short as the deadline was ensuing fast. Sabre (an American Company) who was running the Airline had absconded citing their own security concerns at their on reason. This, according to them, arose because of the change in Government. They had been paid over Rs80 crores and had an invoice of $21 million pending for payment.

Lashing out at the Golden Handshake Scheme and Early Retirement Schemes in Pakistan, Abbasi said the two schemes had taken its toll demoralizing the workforce. Consequently the Airline had lost some of its more able and trained manpower. Arif Abbasi also regretted what he called the unilateral withdrawal of benefits such as Medical and tickets to the retired employees. This was a contractual obligation and its withdrawal would have been contested in the Courts. The withdrawal was going to demoralize the employees for no reason, as its financial impact was negligible.

Regarding the allegations that he was not meeting targets and not delivering the goods, Abbasi said that scores of achievements are self-explanatory to all questions raised by different quarters.

Abbasi said that due to his personal efforts, he got Boeing and General Electric to restore supply of Spare Parts and got all the grounded aircraft operational, all in-house effort saving foreign exchange.

The former Managing Director also takes pride while talking about the Haj Operations during his 6-month stay in the national carrier. He said that no aircraft was hired outside the airline and PIA did the Haj Operations by making use of the aircraft earlier lying grounded.

That Haj Operations coped with the problem of transporting 110,000 Hajis in a period of 28 days and thus saved $8-10 million for the airline, Abbasi claimed.

Despite adverse financial conditions, our own resources solved the Y2k problem. Abbasi especially mentioned his efforts he initiated for regularity of the airline operations which went up to 80 per cent and the seat factor increased to 72 per cent in the traditionally low season. As a result of these initiatives, PIA became world leaders in Aircraft Utilization of Airbus.

During that period a joint venture was also signed with Shaheen Foundation for merging the ground handling facilities of the two respective organizations at all airports in Pakistan. PIA's Ground Training School, which is known for providing technical training to a large number of airlines of various countries was in a crumbling position. This Ground Training School was revamped to retrain and update all passenger handling personnel.

Regarding expansion in PIA operations, he said that PIA successfully added Manchester to PIA's Atlantic route with traffic rights to carry passengers from UK to USA. This right was being sought for the last 30 years. There was a plan to make UK a hub for PIA with permission for operations to Birmingham and Glasgow and had obtained additional landing rights into Heathrow Airport. Besides, Hong Kong became an additional destination. Tripoli was revived and there was a move with Iran to start operations ex-Iran to European destinations. A deal for possible sale of our old 747-200 Jumbos and supply of oil against that deal was also under consideration.