HAVING POTENTIAL TO GROW

INTERVIEW: SYED SULTAN HASAN, GM PUBLIC AFFAIRS PIA

AMANULLAH BASHAR
(feedback@pgeconomist.com)

Jan 30 - Feb 5, 20
12

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is a national asset and despite confronted with inherited financial constraints it is serving the national cause in diversified directions undauntedly with a focus to get through all difficulties going forward.

This was stated by Syed Sultan Hasan, General Manager for Public Affairs of PIA in an interview. During the course of discussion, he highlighted various aspects regarding image of the airline, future outlook of the airline, and plans to expand its fleet and destinations as well as phasing out the aging aircraft with the fuel efficient carriers.

He was quite confident while speaking about the image of the national airline with the emphasis that apart from criticism for the sake of criticism, the fact remains that people at large especially families, old age passengers, unaccompanied females, and children strongly prefer to travel abroad with PIA with a confidence on the national carrier for a safe travel and customer services provided by the staff.

When asked about the much talked about disruption in flight schedule, cancellation of flights and delays, Sultan pointed out that we have recently accomplished the Hajj operations in which a considerable number of aircrafts were engaged to fulfill the national commitment.

However, the deployment of aircraft on Hajj operations resulted in shortage of aircrafts on other routes as we had to manage within the given circumstances.

He disclosed that earlier PIA used to hire eight to ten aircraft on lease to carry out Hajj flights, which naturally had financial overheads. Now we are not hiring aircrafts exclusively for Hajj operation in view of financial constraints. And, that was one of the major reasons which had caused delays or cancellation of flights for want of aircraft.

However, as soon as we accomplished the task of hajj operations, things returned to normalcy.

When asked why PIA was adamant on carrying out the Hajj operations exclusively by its own aircrafts and why other airlines were not invited to share this gigantic task, he responded promptly that PIA never opposed other airlines to share Hajj flights but since it's a non-commercial services without any profit, other airlines would not like to join in. Hence, PIA being the national carrier has no choice but to fulfill its commitment.

PIA has to fly on various domestic routes, which are not commercially feasible where private sector is always reluctant to operate on remote areas.

"We have to serve the people of this country even at loss making routes, which is yet another cause of financial losses to the airline," he said.

Since PIA is serving the people of remote areas, it seems justified that compensation from the government side should come to make up such financial losses incurring on remote area flights.

However, people always have high expectations with PIA but sometimes these high expectations are not met due to certain reasons.

We always try to meet the expectations of the passengers. However, whenever these high expectations are not met, people start raising questions about our professional capacity, which is not fair when you come to the ground realities.

He recalled the days when air travel used to be a luxury in 60s when the operation cost was nominal as compared to present days. Beside inflationary pressures, the ever-increasing fuel cost has eroded the profitability of the airlines.

Today, the air traveling has become a necessity not a luxury so we have to look things in that perspective. It is a worldwide phenomenon and airlines have applied all cost effective methods, which naturally affected the luxuries provided to the passengers in the past.

As far as the operational capacity of the airline is concerned, it is not only intact but improving with every passing day. Hence, any deliberate neglect on the part of PIA staff is beyond doubt because apart from image of the airline, it is the question of bread and butter of the staff working under certain rules and corporate culture.

He said that despite facing financial crunch, PIA never allowed to disturbed or hurt its credit worthiness, and is meeting all its financial commitments to its suppliers both at domestic or international levels.

Mr. Sultan when asked about the impact of global financial turmoil and economic recession said that the aviation industry across the world has passed through difficult times due to economic recession and PIA was also not an exception to that recession. Hence, people who desire to criticize should also look at the global aviation landscape. However, raising finger at professional leakages can be helpful if the opinion leaders and people have an understanding of the aviation business. They should point out those grey areas with a sense to bring improvement in the airline and not only for the sake of criticism alone as this airline belongs to every Pakistani. The opinion leaders can help by pointing out areas where improvement is really needed.

Pakistan has a huge market with increasing number of revenue passengers and that is why a large number of foreign carriers are operating and flying to Pakistan and also sharing a huge business. So, the market is there and loyal customers are also there. It is a matter of time alone and things are quite positive to supplement this positive notion that PIA has a strong future for which we are expanding our fleet as well.

Currently, PIA operates with a fleet of 39 aircrafts. However, plans are under consideration to acquire narrow body fuel-efficient aircrafts during 2012 for expanding our destination network.

We have not finalized the acquisition plan yet. It is expected that by March this year some positive developments would come on ground hopefully. Actually, PIA has prepared a comprehensive fleet replacement plan spanning over a period from 2012 to 2020. Aircrafts with over 20 years of age are planned to be phased out. Fleet composition is being rationalized to have minimum types of aircrafts. The plan envisages phasing out of 12 A310s, six 737s, and five 747s and induction of seven 777 aircrafts and 39 narrow body aircrafts by 2020 out of which 13 narrow body planes are to be inducted in 2012, he said.

When his attention was drawn towards increasing fares of PIA especially on domestic routes, he said actually 40 per cent of fares are made of government levies and civil aviation authority's taxes, which push fares up.