ISLAMABAD: The government on Thursday sought support from lawmakers across party lines to declare the loss-making Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) ‘bankrupt’ and eventually shut it down.
Speaking before the Senate Special Committee on the Performance of PIA, Prime Minister’s Adviser on Aviation Sardar Mehtab Abbasi said: “Such a recommendation from a parliamentary committee will help the government take the difficult decision that it is otherwise hesitating to take.”
The committee, which met to discuss the status of its recommendations to overhaul PIA, also took up the incidents that had occurred over the past month that had given a bad name to both the national flag carrier and the country.
Mr Abbasi laid three options before the committee: letting the national flag carrier run the way it was, operating in loss; declare it bankrupt and shut it down; or, restructure it.
Sherry Rehman accuses PIA officials of protecting errant pilots
“We are trying to restructure PIA, but it is an extremely difficult task,” he said, arguing that PIA lacked discipline, top-quality management, ethical and professional officers and a “sense of ownership”.
However, 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.
But Mr Abbasi countered, saying: “Top quality people do not come to PIA anymore.”
Nonetheless, the members agreed that recommendations given by the committee and approved by the house could help turn PIA around.
In its recommendations the subcommittee has 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,” Mr Abbasi said.
But Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) Senator Sherry Rehman cautioned him that rejecting the committee’s recommendations would be tantamount to undermining parliament.
PML-Functional Senator Syed Muzaffar Hussain Shah also observed that their 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,” he said.
This viewpoint was echoed by the committee chairman, who said the recommendations were final and irreversible under law, but also assured Mr 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 observed: “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 Mr 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, adding: “There is also an active case against the pilot of fake degree. The matter is in court”.
This incensed Senator Rehman, who alleged the PIA officials were protecting the pilots in both cases. She demanded that Sardar Mehtab Abbasi sack both PIA officials for incompetence.
Aviation Secretary Irfan Elahi also told the committee that the British government had not officially shared details items seized from PIA flight PK785.
“The Pakistani mission in London has been involved to request the British authorities to share their findings,” Mr Elahi said.