Jan 30 - Feb 5, 20

In 1982, the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) was created as a regulatory body through an act of parliament, on the direction of the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), to govern and align civil aviation activities in the country with ICAO recommended practices.

Initially, CAA faced severe resistance from various professional cadres of PIA Corporation and as the CAA started to move forward, and made efforts to seriously undertake its regulatory duties, the resistance from the national carrier started to take an ugly shape.

Neither the government of the time, nor the leadership of PIA and CAA made any meaningful and concerted effort to curb these unhealthy tendencies. This resulted in a gradual but certain decline in standards in all areas of airline operations.

In the early 1990s, the government of Pakistan adopted an Open Skies Aviation Policy, and signed a memorandum of understanding with a number of countries of the region and outside. These exercises were undertaken in great haste without really understanding the implications of Open Skies for Pakistan's own carriers.

Pakistan used to be the hub for international carriers up to the 1970s, for both East-West and reciprocal flights. Karachi airport was a bustling place with vibrant aviation activity.

Due to various political developments in the region, deteriorating law and order situation in Karachi in the 80s, development of alternate aviation infrastructure in the region, and lack of vision exercised by aviation hierarchy, international carriers started shifting their regional hubs to other more attractive locations in the Gulf area. Successive governments in Pakistan continued to remain passive bystanders in this fast changing scenario.

In line with global trends, and also as a consequence of our Open Skies policy, several local airlines started to appear in the private sector during the 1990s. Most were set up with short-term gains in view. They used old and inefficient equipment; lacked professional managements; and they blatantly violated basic aviation standards and laws governing safety standards. Sooner than later, they also felt the heat of overt and sometimes covert competitive pressures from PIA.

It must also be stated that Pakistan's National Aviation Policy has been reviewed and revised several times in bits and pieces, mostly by unprofessional bureaucrats and people with vested agendas. It is now a moth-eaten document, which is perceived as protective and somewhat tilted towards the national carrier.

In contrast, several smaller and lesser-developed countries of the world, including a few in this region, have correctly envisioned and based their national development plans on the back of their vibrant aviation sectors.

Aviation experts believe that Pakistan is inadequately and poorly served by its own and foreign carriers both for passenger and cargo carriage.

Lack of meaningful incentives to the industry does not allow quality carriers to develop in the country, they said, adding, "Our government has yet to understand the importance of civil aviation as a 'driving force' in the growth of a developing economy. This is despite several high profile examples within our region."

According to them, none of our airports is worthy of being called a world-class facility. Some are more like crowded bus stations, and little else. Even security-related facilities at these airports are not quite in line with global standards. None of our airports is capable of handling the new technology large aircraft such as the A-380, which is expected to start commercial flights in a couple of years.

They maintained that the downstream industry, which is dependent for its survival on a thriving aviation industry, also remains limited and weak. Investment in the hotel industry is rather limited because of insignificant growth in tourism.

They said "A vibrant airline industry plays a pivotal role in projecting a country, and improving its global market image." The national carrier PIA has a long way to go in improving its service, image, and most importantly, its profitability.

The government currently absorbs PIA's heavy losses on a regular basis, apart from blessing it with concessions, some of which are not available to other airlines.

Resultantly, PIA continues to monopolize the domestic market, they said, adding, "No Pakistani carrier has made any significant contribution towards developing a decent cargo airline, or even bothered to undertake regular flights dedicated to carriage of ever-increasing exportable goods and reciprocal cargo."

According to them, Pakistan needs to go a long way to benefit from the advantages of having a vibrant civil aviation industry. While the task is certainly huge, it is not impossible.

Sources in CAA said the authority will continue implementation on its ongoing mega projects during the year 2012 for betterment of stakeholders and development of the country.

The CAA has spent billions of rupees on these projects including up-gradation and construction of new airports in the country during the year 2011, they said, adding, "The construction work of Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIAP), the first green field airport project of Pakistan is being carried out in full pace and it will play a major role not only in the national but also international aviation sector after completion by June 2013."

According to them, BBIAP will be a state-of-the-art airport capable of handing A-380 operation with modular facilities for both domestic and international passengers and cargo for which respective annual handling capacities will gradually grow from 6.5 million passengers and 100, 00 metric ton cargo to 25 million passengers and 150,000 metric tons of cargo, respectively, at par with international standards and shall serve as a major hub for all aviation activities in the region.

They said the development work under up-gradation plan of the existing infrastructure at the Multan airport for B-747/B-777 operation on modern line to support the 21st century aircraft technology and to meet operational requirements of next 15-20 years, will be completed as per schedule.

The government has approved the plan prepared by CAA for New Gwadar International Airport (NGIA) Project under public sector development programme (PSDP).

Sultanate of Oman will provide grant of US$17.5 million for this project, the sources said, adding, "Land measuring 4,300 acres located along coastal highway has been acquired and handed over to CAA in May 2008. PC-1 amounting to Rs7675 million along with master plan has also been approved by ECNEC."

According to them, CAA has already launched up-gradation-augmentation of existing infrastructure precision approach and landing-navigational aid system as well as radar network to facilitate more efficient and secured operations of aircraft in airspace. Construction work of new airport at Thar (Islamkot) is also in progress. Following USOAP audit, CAA is now recognized as one of the top aviation in the world and its team of universal oversight safety audit programme (USOAP) has completed the safety audit of the authority this year.