PIA : [Monkey] Business As Usual


Pakistan International Airlines has been in dire straits for a very long time. The reasons behind it are many, but one thought process that exists amongst the fat men that are running the national airline is the most disturbing. They have this idea that no matter what happens; PIA will not be shut down, will not be privatized, and therefore they can use and abuse PIA like a motel room they have rented for a few hours.

The most interesting monkey business that has come to light is one concerning the 747 fleet. According to PIA’s own website, “The Boeing 747 is often referred to as “Jumbo Jet”, [and] is the world’s most iconic and recognizable jet airplane. This 4 engine long haul wide-body airplane has a two deck configuration. PIA operated two variants of 747 family which includes 747-300 and 747-200 Combi.”

According to Pilots, Aviation Experts, and Airplane fans the world over, the 747 has played a major role in making the air transport industry what it is today. While many world airlines have moved on; inducting the latest model of Boeing or Airbus aircrafts in their fleet, there still remain hundreds in active service.  However as stated on PIA’s website “At present due to its capacity, 747-300 fleet is mostly deployed to cater high density requirements like carrying intending pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia.”

It is interesting to note, that from PIA’s current fleet comprising of B777 variants, A310’s, ATR’s, and the 747’s; it is the 747 that is the only profitable aircraft.

According to the actual aircraft profitability report for the year 2009 and 2010 the 747 family was the only profitable aircraft contributing 2.08 billion rupees and 2.36 billion rupees respectively to PIA’s receipts.

Going by the recent performance audit report of PIA for the period 2008-2010; it was brought to light that PIA management is in the process of cannibalizing/scrapping these national assets – the 747’s are fully owned by PIA – it was also pointed out that PIA has recently sold as scrap, one its 747’s for a paltry sum of 10.3 million rupees. While the details of the sale were requisitioned by the audit party that same were not furnished even after constant reminders.

The 747 in question was inducted in PIA’s fleet in 1999, after having flown for 12 years by Cathay Pacific.  There was some monkey business that went down in its purchase, but that I shall save for another day. The aircraft flew with PIA from 1999, till 2008 when it was stored at Sialkot, due to high operating and maintenance costs. The “Jumbo” in question was finally parted out in 2011 at Karachi.

In PIA’s performance audit report it is clearly stated that “Audit would like to know why PIAC opted to sell off an airworthy aircraft whose operating cost is the least when compared to other aircrafts in PIAC’s fleet, because it is wholly owned by PIAC.” The same report also states that “comparative statement sheet listing all the bidders who took part in the tender process and the bid price of each participant was requisitioned, but the same was not provided to audit till the close of audit.”

The audit report raises many questions regarding feasibility studies and whether PIA looked at the possibility of converting the aircraft into a freighter (as done by Air China). However none of these questions have been addressed by the management of Pakistan International Airlines.

It seems PIA will in the near future completely phase out its 747 fleet, the only fleet that is owned fully by PIA and therefore is the cheapest to operate. Yet in this year’s Hajj operation PIA did not fly its own 747’s and instead leased older versions of the same that has cost the airline between 5 and 8 million dollars. According to PALPA president Suhail Baloch had the faulty engines been repaired in time PIA could have saved 6.9 million dollars (approximately 600 million rupees).

Whether PIA’s management continues to live in a fool’s paradise and leases newer aircraft under the pretext of them being more fuel efficient, I cannot say for certain. However I would like to end my rant for today, with some facts about another 747, the Air Force One – the designated aircraft of the President of the United States of America.

The US Presidents “Air Force One” is also a Boeing 747.  In fact there are 2 units of the said aircraft bearing tail numbers 28000 (inducted in Aug 1990) and 29000 (inducted in Dec 1990).  While these aircraft have been specially configured to the needs of the President, the choice of the 747 as “Air Force One” in its self says a lot about the aircraft’s standing. It may also be of interest that the 2 Air Force One (tail number 28000 and 29000) will be phased out in 2017, the aircraft would by then be 27 years old.

Just for comparisons sake, the 747 PIA cannibalized and sold for scrap was 23.8 years old when PIA laid it to rest. The US Air Force One is 21 years old and will continue to serve as Air Force one till 2017, and lastly the 747’s I wrote about earlier – are 25 years old.

May Sense Prevail… !!


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