By Syed M. Aslam
July 15 - 21, 2002


Air Vice Marshal (Retd.) Syed Ataur Rahman is the Managing Director of Shaheen Air International, one of the two private sector airlines operating in the country.  He joined the Pakistan Air Force in 1965 as GD Pilot just before the Indo-Pak war and has remained a fighter pilot. He was posted in Dacca, former East Pakistan, and saw action in 1971 Indo-Pakistan war.  He has flown mostly Mirages and also F-7 and F-86 fighter aircraft as well as all trainee aircrafts. During his long association with the PAF as a combat pilot he also served as Air Officer Commanding at prestigious Air Force Academy, Risalpur and also served as Director General Logistics at Joint Services Head Quarter. He also served as Base Commander Karachi and as Air Attache in the UK and was sent on deputation as instructor to Libya and Turkey to train the fighter pilots of their respective air forces. He retired from the PAF about two years ago.

PAGE: Open Sky Policy was introduced in Pakistan about a decade ago. What are your comments?

ATAUR RAHMAN: I have strong opinion about it. I feel that it is extremely unfair for the civil aviation industry of the country. It should be understood that foreign commercial airlines should only be allowed to come to the country on the basis of bilateral agreements so that the domestic airlines, be it state-owned Pakistan International or private, should get something in return. The Open Sky Policy has allowed the foreign carriers to pick up passengers from the country at the cost of the domestic airlines.

PAGE: What could be done?

ATAUR RAHMAN: There is a need for fresh negotiations with the foreign carriers about routes, sector, frequency and timings so that domestic airlines can compete. The agreements should be made on purely commercial basis safeguarding the interests of Pakistani carriers, both public and private. As is, PIA as a national airline is unable to sell Pakistan like many of its counterparts in the region. A prime example is that of Emirates Airlines which is selling Dubai bringing in people to the city from across the world.

PAGE: Do you see PIA as your competitor?

ATAUR RAHMAN: Small private airline like Shaheen doesn't view PIA as a competitor. However, PIA has seen it fit to compete with the small airline like us instead of competing with its foreign counterparts. In doing so, PIA only limits itself and debase itself as the national airline. It will also not be able to break us despite causing us hardships. For instance, we introduced a low-priced night coach domestic service a year ago and the move was followed by PIA recently by introducing a similar service recently. Since our overheads are much smaller than the PIA and since our night coach service is doubled by a courier service we are doing ok despite the competition thrown at us by the PIA. We also have contracts with OCS, Leopard and Inland Cargo and are also negotiating with TCS to better our revenues from our courier operations. We are carrying more parcels on the courier service than the PIA though it has big capacity aircraft. In addition, Shaheen is also operating a cargo service to Dubai and owns one cargo aircraft while it has other two on charter. We also have contract with the British Airways for cargo services.

PAGE: The government has announced this week that all the airlines will be allowed a level playing field. Your comment.

ATAUR RAHMAN: We welcome the statement. However, it is unfortunate that the PIA has been allowed to be instrumental to develop the national aviation policy. The private airlines should also be allowed to give the inputs. We have not yet been taken into confidence about the policy and it is imperative that the private airlines should be given an opportunity to make their presentations so that the views and concerns of the private airlines would be better understood. This is necessary so that the policy will benefit the entire national aviation industry.

PAGE: Are you satisfied with the jet fuel prices in Pakistan?

ATAUR RAHMAN: Yes. Karachi offers the lowest jet fuel prices in the region and also in the country. Jet fuel prices at Karachi is about Rs 4 per litre less than that at Peshawar and about Rs 2.50 per litre less than that at Lahore.

PAGE: What has been the post September scenario like for you?

ATAUR RAHMAN: Like all other airlines we were also affected. What affected the aviation industry worldwide also affected us. The increased insurance costs, fuel prices, the fear of air travel, visa restrictions, the overflight ban imposed by India (though it did not affect our operations directly it did have an indirect impact) and the India-Pakistan military standoff had a negative impact. However, the situation has improved considerably for us at present. The insurance costs has increased drastically and unlike PIA, which was able to absorb the costs by having its insurance obligations covered locally, we have to keep on insurance from foreign companies. The insurance costs have increased by a high 70 per cent after 9.11.

PAGE: What are your future plans?

ATAUR RAHMAN: We are planning to induct at least two Boeing 737-400s in our fleet by end this year and also intend to expand our cargo operations beyond Dubai to Afghanistan, where we have already operated such services delivering textbooks. We have plans to cooperate with Uzbekistan Airline.