Pakistan International Airlines reportedly on the verge of collapse

A nation with more than 230 million people and a huge diaspora in Europe and the Gulf states ordinarily would be well positioned to support a thriving national carrier. But Pakistan – a country with nuclear weapons – is a shambles, and its national airline PIA, Pakistan International Airlines, has a sorry track record and is reportedly facing imminent collapse. Geo News reports:

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is on the verge of collapse as a top official of the national flag carrier has warned that flight operations are feared to be suspended by September 15 if emergency funds are not provided, Geo News has learnt.

Speaking to Geo News on Wednesday, a senior director of the national flag carrier said the number of operational planes had been reduced to 16 from 23 which led to the cancellation of several flights.

The official said aircraft manufacturers — Boeing and Airbus — have also suspended spare parts supplies to the PIA over non-payment and the national airline was incurring losses worth millions of rupees daily due to limited flight operations.

The official also revealed that a PIA plane was stopped at Dammam airport while another four at Dubai airport over failure to pay for fuel.

The impounded aircraft were reportedly allowed to return to Pakistan after The International Air Transport Association (IATA) advanced $3.5 million to cover fuel bills, in an effort to keep a longstanding member from an ignominious end. The airline is asking the Pakistani government for an emergency bailout, but the government has other problems to deal with.

On July 1, 2020, PIA was banned from European service following disturbing revelations.

In May 2020, PIA flight 8303 suffered a fatal crash in Karachi, Pakistan. While the accident remains under investigation, Pakistani commercial aviation took another hit a month later when it emerged that 262 of the country's 860 pilots (30%) had license discrepancies. These ranged from suspicions all the way to licenses that were outright fakes.

A key part of the scandal concerned prospective pilots having paid others to sit exams for them. As a result of the affair, PIA grounded 150 pilots that it believed were involved, from a total of 434. Despite firing certain offenders, the EASA issued a ban on the airline on June 30th, 2020, which came into action the following day.

Eight days later, The US and the UK, where millions of Pakistanis reside, also banned PIA.

Meanwhile, India, from which Pakistan separated and which remains a bitter rival, is thriving, with an airline industry that is experiencing explosive growth. The two largest airlines there, IndiGo and a resurgent Air India, have ordered almost a thousand airliners between them. On a trip to India a few months ago, I used both carriers to fly around the country and was favorably impressed. IndiGo is very well organized and managed, while Air India, following privatization and a takeover by the mammoth Tata Group and a financial and management tie up with Singapore Airlines, was impressive. The world airline industry is closely following Air India’s revival and IndiGo's rise. IndiGo recently began international service with widebody aircraft. Air India is refurbishing its existing fleet, ordering massive numbers of new airliners (470), and adopting systems from widely admired Singapore Airlines.

Even if PIA receives a bailout to tide itself over, its inability to keep its fleet airborne, its scandalous crew staffing, and its poor safety record will not attract passengers except by deep discounts. This does no auger well for its future, or for the future of Pakistan. If there were not a nuclear arsenal at the disposal of whoever controls that government, we might not have to worry so much. But an ongoing economic collapse of Pakistan is the sort of wild card that could trigger a nuclear war.  

Photo credit: Dale Coleman GNU Free documentation license 1.2

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