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Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) – A Tale of Pathos

Gone are the days when Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was one of the few things we could talk about with heads held high, we felt pride not at the condition of age-old planes or technology, not at the in-flight entertainment system or even the food. Rather, this pride was for the people working in PIA – the quality and finesse of the pilots, the expertise and competence of the technical staff and engineers, the knowledge and capability of the cabin crew, and not to forget their grace and beauty.

The Glorious Past

There were times when the image of National flag carrier was taken very seriously, there used to be surprise checks in the odd hours of night or early morning. Not only the aircraft were thoroughly inspected but also the cleanliness of staff’s uniform and the condition of the check-in counters.

Jacqueline Kennedy disembarking a PIA carrier in 1962. PIA was her favourite airline.

PIA made it compulsory for its staff to look presentable and be properly dressed, as each one of them was an ‘ambassador’ of Pakistan.

A fact you will always revere that it was PIA who helped set-up a new airline for a country known as the United Arab Emirates(UAE) in the mid 1980s, it was through PIA’s relentless efforts that Emirates Airlines was born, pilots and engineers from PIA trained and groomed the staff of this nascent Emirates airline, a time we still cherish and recall the pride of being a Pakistani.

Famous Hollywood stars Ava Gardner and Stewart Granger arrive at Lahore Airport, 1954.

It was fascinating to learn that in 1975, PIA selected its new uniforms through an open competition. The winning entry was designed by Sir Hardy Amies, the designer of Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II. The very fact that designers like Sir Amies and Pierre Cardin considered it prestigious enough to attach their names with PIA is heart-warming and heart-breaking at the same time.

PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) advert in Paris in the 1960s.


The Downfall

There are numerous factors that put the airline on a falling track, among which were the escalating cost of aviation fuel, the deteriorating law and order situation, international competition, the huge salary bill and appointment of a series of incapable CEOs some of whom knew nothing about economics and dynamics of aviation industry, it’s bizarre to have chairman along with a managing directory both exercising their powers at the same time, each of whom believed he was the chief executive. All it did was double the expense, encourage rivalry and fuel intrigues.

The first Asian airline to fly a jet, and a gem of airliners is now a huge drag on state revenue purse.Once a role model for global airliners, it now breathes hard in the financial rot brought about by corruptive political inductions and continued over-staffing.

What’s currently going on in the national flag carrier is very unfortunate that after 28 managing directors most of whom were political appointees and didn’t have any guts about how to run an airline, PIA has become a financial black hole which has sucked up many billions.

With the decline in service and quality, PIA got trapped into endless scandals and losses, not just in dollar value but in goodwill and reputation. It’s hard to believe that the airline that was Asia’s first to acquire a jet plane in its fleet back in the 1960s, has fallen behind all its peers in the race to upgrade, update and improve its image.

Who would believe that the first airline ever to show in-flight movies on international routes and to use the first computer ever in Pakistan, would someday lose its customer base because people would perceive it as archaic and out-dated.


Ammar Khalil

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  • Yasir Jawed

    The biggest problem of PIA is the managment that is completely incapable of taking strategic decisions… on of the auditor who were looking the books of PIA said that PIA has never made profit since 1980s it all started when they offer their skies to international airlines who were far more better in almost every aspect and they couldnt meet the level of services they werr offering to the passengers.

    Second, the political influence is so rife in PIA. You have so many workers union who are just eating up the resources without being able to generate any good for the organization. I mean look at the per plane woreker ratio its around 700 workers per plane. Where the international competitors have around 200 or so. Why cant the management out source the non core function of the ground services??

    Third the plane thay have got on wet lease from Turkey are those who have been grounded by the turkish govt. Due to outdated technology And yet they are using it to detoriate the left over reputaion of the National carrier.

    Finally, the losses are being financed by the governement and it will keep on financing the
    Same so all PIA have to do is “Jaisa chl raha hy chlnay do.”

    • Ammar Khalil

      sum up your views in a readable 300+ words write-up and we will publish it.

  • Waqqas

    PIA will die soon and it should. Its not only about management. I have seen lowest level of employees doing micro corruption in PIA.
    I saw their food storage officers selling cheese to hot n roll shops in Karachi. Even its going on right now…..

    • Ammar Khalil

      Yes nobody can deny that there is massive corruption in PIA but lets not be sarcastic, its our national carrier, we should criticize but should not be judgmental about the fate of the airline.

  • Safa Danish

    very well written, as Pakistani we should pray for its success in future.