NEED OF EFFICIENT AIR CARGO HANDLING
SHABBIR H. KAZMI
Jan 30 - Feb 5, 2012
It is a common complaint of exporters/importers that due to inefficient service of domestic airlines they have to rely on foreign airlines.
Other complaints include 1) delay in flights, 2) improper handling, and 3) uncompetitive charges. Exporters of perishable commodities often have to incur huge losses in case a flight is delayed or connecting flight is missed. Since adequate storage facilities are not available, perishable goods go stale when pallets are left in open/scorching heat.
To overcome the inadequacy of national carrier, business community is forced to rely for bulk of the import/export shipments on foreign airlines. The key advantages of using foreign airlines are many destinations, swift handling, and competitive charges.
Experts are of the opinion that PIA can be made an efficient service provider. History puts weight to it.
PIA started operating its cargo delivery system within the country nearly four decades ago. During the early 1970s, PIA operated a service called "Air Express" that delivered documents and parcels from one airport to another.
Pakistan International Cargo was started in 1974 using two Boeing-707 aircrafts with services to the Middle East and Europe. The operations ended in the late 1990s when both aircrafts were grounded. PIA Cargo transports goods nationwide as well as to international destinations. These include meat and vegetables, textiles, paper products, laboratory equipment and postal mail. In 2003, PIA launched a courier service in Karachi, Lahore, and Rawalpindi/Islamabad that expanded within a year to 12 cities.
The airline offers over 70 locations within Pakistan, with shipments collected and delivered from customers' homes. From 2004 to 2007, PIA had also operated two Airbus freighter aircrafts.
Business community can still recall that PIA used to operate special cargo flights to overcome the seasonal rush. In 2004, PIA and Lufthansa entered into an agreement for cargo handling to boost exports of Pakistani products across the world helping the trade ministry to achieve its export target.
PIA and Lufthansa entered into strategic alliance to share their cargo resources on reciprocal basis. This agreement helped Pakistan to exploit its potential vis-a-vis the exports of fruits, perishable goods, and non-traditional items.
Besides the markets of Europe and America and Canada, Pakistan was able to boost trade with the Latin American countries as well as give the vast network of the Lufthansa operations to this region. Frankfurt was the new hub for the PIA cargo service in Europe and Americas.
PIA had been operating additional cargo flights on the European and Middle Eastern route due to the rising demand of Pakistani products abroad and this strategic alliance will help it to concentrate on other regions like Central Asia and Far East, sources said.
The year 2007 turned out to be an exceptionally difficult year for PIA. The airline experienced a series of financial, operational and marketing problems during the past year that severely hampered its performance.
In the early part of the year, an operating restriction was placed on PIA flights by the European Union. Apart from providing a negative image for the corporation, this translated into a loss in market share as well as growth in business, which made the situation exceptionally difficult.
An unprecedented increase in oil prices adversely impacted PIA's bottom line and neutralized recovery efforts. Attempts were made to contain the impact of a rising fuel bill by reducing the utilization of older and fuel inefficient planes. The airline was also mired by increases in pay to certain categories of personnel and a depreciation of the Rupee against the Dollar.
Business community was facing a number of problems while sending export goods to countries around the world. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) should facilitate the business community for easy handling of cargo.
PIA should make changes in the current cargo system so as to facilitate the business community. It also should ensure timely delivery of perishable goods, because delay in the delivery may lose freshness of fruits and vegetables. PIA is a commercial entity and has the capacity to handle cargo in bulk and efforts have to be made to further improve the cargo system to provide maximum facilitation to its customers.
Civil aviation plays an important role in the development of a country's economy by providing fast and efficient access between different parts of the country as well as different destinations around the world.
Private participation on this front has been encouraged through concessions and incentives for development of airports and airlines to increase the availability of air transport services both domestically and internationally.
Focusing on export shipment, particularly fruits and vegetables can increase PIA's revenue considerably.
While the shipments continue throughout the year, special arrangements have to be made during peak seasons of mango and kinno. Since bulk of the exports is made to Europe and North America, using airfreight has become a necessity.
PIA should also focus on providing priority service to exporters of cut flowers. It may be true that the national carrier does not have enough financial resources but the ministry of commerce should think about offering freight subsidy. Exporting exports is need of the time and handling additional cargo can improve financial health of PIA.