ISLAMABAD: Defence secretary which is also chairman of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has warned the national flag carrier might be grounded by December this year if the government failed to release funds for purchasing new planes as the buying deal has already been cancelled.
His ominous warning is in contrast with over 100 percent increase last month in the salaries of executive pilots and the office-bearers of the Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association (PALPA), a move apparently intended to buy their loyalties. This has been done at a time when the PIA doesn’t have money to get planes.
Addressing a conference of PIA’s marketing managers some days ago in Karachi, secretary defence Lt. Gen. (R) Asif Yasin who is simultaneously wearing caps of chairman PIA and DG Civil Aviation opened his heart to the executive staff about his inability to get funding from the federal government. “I couldn’t manage to get money from the government”, he told his marketing staff, due to its financial constraints, “it now looks that the airlines will be closed in December,” according to the insiders.
As he said this, a senior officer told secretary defence that the foreign company that PIA was negotiating with for the new planes has refused to move ahead when shown the national flag carrier’s balance-sheet, which shows losses running into billions.
PIA had entered into a plane deal with a foreign firm that wanted sovereign guarantees, which the federal government refused. According to the procedure, the first installment was required with the letter of intent and the government was not ready to release funds. Likewise, second and third installments were to be paid before the handing over of planes.
A spokesman of PIA Mashhood Tajwar downplayed the warning of chairman regarding the likely closure of operations by December. “It was an informal remark of chairman,” insisted the spokesman explaining that it was discussed in the context of government’s refusal to release funds resulting in scrapping of the deal. Regarding phenomenal raise in salaries of pilots, the spokesman said it was already allocated in the budget.
However, documents available with The News indicate the notification in this regard was issued much before the budget, in April with immediate effect. According to the new package, an executive pilot with 30-year experience has got a raise from approximate salary of Rs800,000 to Rs1.3 million. Likewise, a pilot with 20-year experience who has managed an executive post has received an increase from Rs450,000 (old salary) to Rs1.1 million. However, the working pilot has received step-motherly treatment.
Asif Yasin has been in the headlines as his triple offices were challenged in Supreme Court that reserved its verdict. During hearings of his case, Chief Justice remarked the losses in PIA were likely to reach Rs150 billion this year. The bench was told that out of 38 planes only 28 planes were operational for 37 destinations. Earlier, the international destinations were 45, which decreased to 37 for lack of business. The court was surprised to know that there were over 18,000 permanent and contract employees in the PIA, in addition to daily wagers for 28 flights. It was also surprising that 551 pilots had been hired for 28 flights. The court directed the PIA management to present the latest report of CAA on PIA on the next hearing.