PIA and Glory Lost in Time

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Wali Rauf

With pilots making headlines for paying no heed to rules and regulations and crew trying their utmost best to add to the bumpy ride, our rankings slipped like marbles out of a baby’s hand

Established under the name of Orient Airways, Pakistan National Airlines served not only as the official flag carrier but also as the premier national airline of Pakistan. From conducting flight operations to leading airports of the world to receiving international appreciation during its early years, the PIA had proven to be the pinnacle of airline excellence up until the early 1990s. That its staff was asked to help train the management of Gulf airlines speaks volumes about its efficiency and incredibly high standards.
However, just as all other good things in Pakistan, the sweet-sounding journey soon came to an abrupt halt. With pilots making headlines for paying no heed to rules and regulations and crew trying their utmost best to add to the bumpy ride, our rankings slipped like marbles out of a baby’s hand.
Following the start of the company’s decline, multiple factors have contributed to the exponential rate of managerial degradation. From administrative hurdles to third-party interferences, there is little that the company has not seen since its establishment. Among many other reasons, perhaps a major cause of decline for the company is the politicization of PIA, considered to be a state-owned enterprise. When key positions are handed out like candy to blue-eyed loyalists or to buy influence in the future, what else can be expected of an institution playing in a handful of dirty hands.
Hindrance created by the unnecessary and damaging involvement by members from the state cabinet as they fight for a greater say has led to the inclusion of individuals unsuited to taking responsibility for such assets. This has not only led to the wastage of potential for growth that could have benefitted the government on the whole but has also paved the way for the possibility of low-level officials abusing their authority over such precious state resources. In addition to the political intervention at both regional and state levels, it would also not be wrong to say that the internal-administrative discrepancies further compound the already poorly knitted network, which should have served as the backbone for the functioning of the PIA.
Mismatch in the supply and demand of the administrative wings coupled with extreme wealth being drawn by individuals with little-to-no real work had led to an influx in unnecessary costing and budgetary constraints for proper development within the company. The lack of accountability and the presence of holes in managerial systems has arisen largely due to the absence of any real leadership body.
In a recent interview, the Chief Operating Officer claimed that not only was he taking charge of his own responsibilities, but was also forced to carry the burden of the CEO/MD due to the lack thereof. Furthermore, corruption remains a major problem polluting the SOE. Due to a lack of proper accountability, this menace does not seem to end anytime soon.
Going by the dismal affairs, everyone appears determined to take the biggest chunk of the carcass (by whatever means possible). The appointment of high-level officials in the company on the grounds of monetary gain and the absence of regulatory bodies to mitigate the recruitment process further aids and abets the rapid degradation of an already torn system.
These problems have been sowed deep into the company over the past 30 years. And therefore, anyone claiming to have a one-and-done solution is living in a fool’s paradise. Even slower would be the nascent recovery, if possible. Several steps may still be taken, however, to save this SOE from further degradation. Stricter measures could be imposed to prevent involvement by government officials.
A recruitment board could also be set up to ensure the immediate appointment of a professional CEO (which is apparently already on the cards), among other positions. Meanwhile, a system of accountability could be established whereby senior members, appointed by much more appropriate methods of recommendation, be tasked with preventing the abuse of positions in the company.
In addition to re-establishing PIA as not only a credible airline, there could not be a greater need to work towards a state enterprise that serves more as an asset than a cumbersome burden. For now, drunk pilots, airline crashes and a blatant violation of international rules are simply making dreams come true for headline writers.