Jan 30 - Feb 5, 20

Gone are the days when travelling by air was considered a luxury. People wish to minimize travelling time and are willing to pay the cost.

While around the world airlines are still struggling to maintain quality of service, Pakistan's national flag carrier suffers from its unique problems. It may not be wrong to say that despite being a listed company, it is being looted by the government, elected representatives, and the employees. Consequently, travelers are facing numerous problems.

There seems no hope of improvement because of poor cash flow as the government, also suffering from liquidity crunch, has expressed its inability to inject funds in the name of 'bailout package'.

A question arises why people still travel by air? The reply is simple, they are forced to pay high cost and bear trauma because of long hours of travelling and poor quality of rail and road service.

Pakistan Railways is completely disorganized because one does not know when will a train depart/arrive; engine may fail or stop because of technical fault or no fuel; air-conditioning system often don't work; and most of the time compartments are without lights and also don't have water in the washrooms.

Rising fuel cost has turned many airlines into loss making entities, forced them to keep on raising airfare and curtailing some of the services, but are still struggling to maintain schedule and minimum standard of service.

PIA just can't be an exception but suffers most due to its unique problems. These include aging fleet, poor quality of maintenance, difficulties in getting fuel and above all bad ground handling services and apathy of cabin and cockpit crew.

Poor maintenance often causes delay and the reality antithesis to its slogan "Baimisal Log Lajawab Service".

It is a common complaint that the national carrier suffers because of over employment, hiring of people on 'recommendations' and thousands of employees getting handsome salary despite doing nothing.

Historically, state owned enterprises have been used for providing jobs for political activists but PIA has been used the most because of good salary being paid and other fringe benefits, most attractive being free tickets for the employees and their families. One of the most common complaints is that around the world airlines give priority to 'revenue passengers' but it is contrary in Pakistan.

Not only employees are upgraded they also carry tons of luggage and even take away food/refreshment/mineral water/soap/perfumes meant for use during the flights.

Getting fuel has become a serious problem because of mounting payables. The airline suffers from serious liquidity crunch because of poor cash inflow, out of proportion expenses, and massive corruption. It is a common compliant of suppliers of all sorts of goods and services that no job can be completed without 'booty' be its supply or stationery or acquiring aircrafts.

One can still recall the controversy over 'Boeing or Airbus'. While the decision makers made tons of money, the airline has to bear the brunt for a very long time.

While one could understand the reasons behind aging fleet that is non-availability of funds, retaining old cabin/cockpit crew, particularly pilots is beyond comprehension. There are two opposite impressions as regards to the aging cabin and cockpit crew: 1) they are not ready to accept retirement and 2) they cannot be relieved because the carrier doesn't have funds to pay the retirement benefits. It is also said that facing liquidity crunch the corporation has also used provident/pension funds.

Worst are the ground handling facilities, often no information is available when a flight will depart or arrive, passengers are not looked after when flights are delayed due to technical reasons, and discourtesy in passenger handling has become a norm. The ground staff often says 'if we suffer from traumas how can we greet passengers with a smiling face? They often forget that proper dress, smiling face, and politeness are the basic requirements of their jobs. If they do not feel comfortable in working for PIA, they have a right to quit. But, they should also keep in mind that any airline they join will demand excellent conducts.

It may be pertinent to clarify that at the airports some of the services are provided by the civil aviation authority (CAA) and not the airlines. However, often airlines are held responsible of these also. Airlines have a complaint that the CAA charges fabulous fee but offers services far below the quality offered at other airports around the world. This may be one of the reasons that many airlines have stopped coming to Pakistan. This is not a good omen because this has deprived CAA from income and local oil companies from sale of fuel to these airlines.

It is also necessary to stress the point that the concept of private airlines has not flourished in the PIA-dominated airline industry. It is mainly because private airlines are willing to operate flights on routes yielding higher revenue but don't wish to operate on some of the domestic routes, which are a must but can't be operated without subsidy to be provided by the government.

Another reason is that despite all adversity the quality of services rendered by the national carrier is better than that of private airlines. This is true because smaller private airlines utilize services of 'third party', which does not have any stake.

Rightsizing in PIA is the only solution because if the corporation does not make enough profit, it cannot survive. It is a corporate entity, which has its own board of directors, department heads, and dedicated staff.

It is need of the time to 'jettison the extra baggage' to save the flights from turbulence. The earlier it is done the better it will be for all the stakeholders.