REPORTS that some quarters suggest hiring a foreign professional to revitalise PIA must arouse mixed reactions. While there is no harm in the idea itself, the suggestion begs a question or two. Does Pakistan not have professionals of its own capable of sorting out the mess in the national carrier? After all, when it was launched, PIA was a national effort, and those who turned it into one of the world’s finest airlines were Pakistani. It had some ‘firsts’ to its credit, including the groundbreaking flight to Shanghai, with PIA becoming the first ‘free world’ airline to fly to China. Then why this search for a foreigner now? Previously, several retired PAF chiefs were at the helm at PIA, and some of them acquitted themselves honourably, despite the onerous task of changing their outlook to the needs of a commercial fleet. But then the airline fell on bad times, revenues fell and the quality of service declined. Any plans now to restore it to its previous status and make it a commercially viable venture must first determine what led to the rot.
Left to itself, the air-line might have continued its happy journey. But decades of political interference by both military and civilian governments and the appointment to the top positions of favourites led to consequences that are before us — nepotism, overstaffing and inefficiency at all levels, besides lack of transparency in transactions ranging from outsourcing to aircraft purchases. Expansion has stopped, and the once money-spinning airline is struggling to survive with an aging fleet, a phenomenal rise in fuel prices, disgruntled passengers and grumbling workers, while its finances have dipped to a low where PIA demands that the government pay the Rs20bn bailout package promised last year if the airline is to pay taxes and other government dues. The appointment of former PAF chief Rao Qamar Suleman is not an event that in itself will swing PIA’s fortunes one way or the other. His success or failure will depend upon whether the government lets him run the airline as a completely commercial enterprise unaffected by political changes in Islamabad.