Pakistan government mulls shutting down PIA; forms committee


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Islamabad: The Pakistan government has urged lawmakers cutting across party lines to declare the loss-making national flag carrier PIA "bankrupt" and eventually "shut it down", saying the airline lacks discipline, top-quality management, ethical and professional officers.

The proposal was made by Prime Minister's Adviser on Aviation Sardar Mehtab Abbasi yesterday at the Senate Special Committee on the performance of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), days after drugs were recovered from its plane in London.

"Such a recommendation (to shutdown) from a parliamentary committee will help the government take the difficult decision that it is otherwise hesitating to take," Dawn quoted Abbasi as saying.

The committee, which met to discuss the status of its recommendations to overhaul PIA, also took up the incidents that occurred over the past month and gave a bad name to both the airline and the country.

Abbasi laid three options before the committee: let the national flag carrier run the way it runs, operate in loss; declare it bankrupt and shut it down; or, restructure it.

"We are trying to restructure PIA, but it is an extremely difficult task," he said.

PIA lacked discipline, top-quality management, ethical and professional officers and a "sense of ownership", Abbasi said.

Committee chairman Mushahidullah Khan, who belongs to the ruling Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N), said the body was not in favour of shutting down PIA altogether.

"We believe that a few good officers at the top could restore PIA's lost glory," he said. However, Abbasi said top quality people do not come to PIA anymore.

The members agreed that recommendations given by the committee and approved by the house could help turn PIA around.

In its recommendations, the subcommittee demanded that the present Board of Directors be dissolved on account of their inefficiency. But the discussion took a different turn when the adviser asked members not to bind PIA with their recommendations.

"PIA should be run under business models, keeping in view the challenges facing the industry. It cannot run on recommendations that will limit PIA's flexibility to adopt the best industrial practices," Abbasi said.

Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman cautioned him that rejecting the committee's recommendations would be tantamount to undermining the Parliament.

PML-Functional Senator Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah said that the recommendations were binding under the Constitution.

"Any observations should have been conveyed to the committee two months ago, when the recommendations were sent to the concerned ministry for feedback. The 60-day time to raise objections over the recommendations has now expired," Shah said.

This viewpoint was echoed by the committee chairman, who said the recommendations were final and irreversible under law, but also assured Abbasi that his observations would be conveyed to the Senate chairman.

The committee also asked PIA for details of actions taken against the "sleeping pilot" on flight PK785 and the captain of PK853, who had invited a Chinese woman into the cockpit.

Acting PIA CEO Nayyar Hayat said the "sleeping pilot" had been issued a show-cause notice for napping for around an hour in business class. But this account was disputed by the chairman who said, "We know that the pilot slept for two and a half hours. You have failed to take proper disciplinary action against the pilot concerned... merely suspending him is insufficient".

The committee was equally displeased with senior PIA management for failing to penalise the pilot who invited a Chinese woman into the cockpit soon after the aircraft took off from Tokyo earlier this month.

The meeting was told that the Chinese woman remained in the cockpit after the aircraft had landed in Beijing, until fresh crew members replaced the old team.

Senator Sherry Rehman asked Hayat if the pilot had a history of misconduct and whether he was a "sexual predator", whose crew was scared to fly with him.

The acting CEO conceded that the pilot had a history of sexually harassing the cabin crew and said "There is also an active case against the pilot of fake degree. The matter is in court".

Senator Rehman alleged the PIA officials were protecting the pilots in both the cases. She demanded that Sardar Mehtab Abbasi sack both PIA officials for incompetence.

Aviation Secretary Irfan Elahi told the committee that the British government had not officially shared the details of the items seized from PIA flight PK785.

"The Pakistani mission in London has been involved to request the British authorities to share their findings," Elahi said.

Earlier this month, PIA, which operates a weekly flight between Mumbai and Karachi, decided to suspend its service from May 11.

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