In an extraordinary show of statesmanship, Imran Khan could dig into the defense budget and acquire money for the vulnerable PIA or, the military can chip in from its $100 billion annual business income and contribute to the PIA bailout package.
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By Nazarul Islam, Copy Edited by Vijaylakshmi Nadar, USA, TIO: When Flight PK 8303 crashed on the rooftops of homes in Karachi, few realized this was the last straw, that broke the camel’s back. An inglorious end to PIA, the flag carrier, and pride of Pakistan. On July 1, 2020, the European Air Safety Agency (EASA) issued a six-month ban on all Pakistan International Airline (PIA) flights to Europe. The current ban comes in the aftermath of an inquiry report regarding the crash of PIA flight 8303, operated by Airbus A320.
In its damning preliminary report, it was discovered that the pilots did not follow the standard procedures for landing and ignored all alarms. However, the revelation that shocked everyone was that 260 of 860 Pakistani pilots, including 141 PIA pilots, had never taken a flying exam and that their licenses were fake.
Today, Air Vietnam has grounded all of the 27 Pakistani pilots flying their aircraft due to concerns about their qualifications. All major airlines across the world have also begun to make Pakistani pilots redundant. Even the UK has decided to follow the EASA ban and barred any PIA flights to take off or land in the country. This is a big setback for the government of Imran Khan, which promised to end corruption and set the house in order.
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The ill-fated Airbus crashed into a densely populated residential area which is less than a mile away, from the runway of Karachi airport. Ninety-seven lives were lost. An inquiry was put into action under the supervision of the Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar.
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PIA has suffered an accumulated loss of Rs 425 billion since 2008. Last year, PIA authorities asked the Federal government to write off its loan for which PIA has to pay Rs 3 billion interest each year. Instead, the government of Pakistan came up with an ambitious revival plan, according to which PIA was to procure 45 new air carriers and expand its travel destinations to generate more revenue for the struggling airlines.
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Up until March 2020, PIA was operating on 18 international routes. However, due to the coronavirus pandemic, most of PIA flights to the Middle East were called off.
Now with the EASA ban, Pakistan has lost at least six of its major routes. With no expectations of PIA resuming its flights to the Middle East, Canada, Malaysia, and Thailand any time soon, one can assume that the corporation has entered the final stage of its battle for survival.
This means that further accumulation of debt has now become inevitable, leaving PIA with only two options. The first option is to hastily privatize the corporation and get rid of it and the second option is to declare itself bankrupt.
The question is if PIA goes for sale who will be willing to foot the outstanding loan bill of Rs 425 billion which the corporation owes to the federal government-owned banks? Hence, if PIA is sold without the condition of adding the loans on top of the sale price, then the federal government banks, which have provided PIA with the loans in the past in the form of cash, credit or deferred payments, will also face the danger of going under. So, in this scenario, the social, political, and geographical catastrophe awaiting Pakistan’s economic demise now seems to be the writing on the wall.
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If Imran Khan’s government has to fix the PIA predicament caused by the bad management of the corporation, recent EASA ban, and accumulating debt, there might possibly be a third option as well. In the national budget passed very recently by the national assembly of the country, the money set aside for the defense for the fiscal year 2020-21 is Rs 1400 billion.
But this will be a tricky situation. Imran Khan has proved that once in power he has ceased to be a statesman and instead, in return for being placed in the office of the prime minister of the country, he has transformed himself into a spokesman of the Pakistan military establishment.
Secondly, the Pakistan army is not an institution that would sacrifice its perks for a national cause, let alone donating billions of rupees for a dying corporation, especially when the army has its own C130s and other aircraft carriers.
The fall of PIA now seems inevitable. Nevertheless, no one had ever anticipated that the final deathblow to the national carrier of Pakistan would come from the sunny blue skies we looked for the jet stream!
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Compiled by Adam Rizvi and Curated by Maham Abbasi