August 14, 1947, was a day when the world witnessed awestruck, as a nation, fueled and spurred by the pride and love of their religion ousted a government formed by people who believed themselves to be enlightened. What ensued was a conflict of monumental proportions and the alteration of the world map. Two nations appeared on the globe, one which was formed on the sole basis of religion. Relations between the two could not be labeled as friendly or hospitable. Hostility ran afoot and sparks flew whenever representatives of the two countries met, either in the board room or on the cricket pitch. The two nations came to be called as Pakistan and India.
It was under these circumstances that Pakistan International Airlines, with its hub at Quaid e Azam International Airport at Karachi, began its operation with only three DC-3 “Dakotas”. Despite suffering from lack of trained personnel and equipment, PIA went on to order more advanced airliners, becoming one of the only Asian airlines to operate State of the Art Boeing 707-245 and Boeing 747-200 jet aircraft. PIA was further given the honor of being the first non communist state to operate flights to Beijing, strengthening ties between Pakistan and soon to be economic super power of the world, China.
However, all was not good in the upper echelons of the management. Despite the fact that PIA had gained a massive market share and the fact that it were two airplanes leased from PIA by Emirates and technical expertise including pilots, ground crew and engineering which PIA lent to Emirates which allowed the latter to begin operations, despite the fact that airlines such as Singapore Airlines studied the PIA model before setting up their own airlines, PIA began to suffer. The familiar green tail of the airplane flying miles above the ground was nowhere to be seen. The organization which was the trend setter for various other organizations and was the model for success for them began to falter.
Losing its market share to other Middle Eastern airlines, having to battle with airlines with airplane fleets of over 80 aircraft while PIA only had 50, and had to cater to both domestic and international traffic alongside battling with operational difficulties which included corruption in the system, demand for pay rises by the staff and government inefficiencies, the national flag carrier suffered, massively. The EU ban on all of PIA’s aircraft excluding the fleet of Boeing 777, was the cherry on top.
However, this is all that people around the world see. That PIA, with its signature green flag tail, with more aircraft at Heathrow, London and JFK, New York as compared to Karachi or Lahore, is an organization which cannot and will not even come close to the excellence offered by other airlines. I, however, respectfully disagree. Having travelled in airlines such as Emirates, American Airlines, Delta Airlines, Cathay Pacific and PIA, I can respectfully say that the comfort and the sense of belonging which I experience while travelling in PIA is unrivalled to any. In other airlines I am merely a passenger, in PIA, I’m a Pakistani and I’m part of the “Great People to Fly With”.
Viewing the organization and dissecting its various operations, we come across a few avenues. PIA Cockpit crew, Cabin Crew, Engineering, Ground Crew, Operations and Management. As far as Cockpit crew, Cabin Crew and Ground Crew is concerned, all are trained extensively to face any and all emergencies they may encounter while on ground or while airborne. While PIA was inducting Boeing 777 in their fleet, slight technical malfunctions, which are quite normal in new aircraft, caused landing gear to overheat resulting in smoke in the cabin while the aircraft was taxiing for takeoff at Heathrow, London. In a pressurized environment, such toxic gases are deadly. In those critical seconds, the pilots had to monitor flight instruments, shut down flight systems and authorize and enable passenger evacuation systems. Cabin crew was to oversee a timely and safe passenger evacuation and Ground Crew to secure the aircraft. All activities by all three parties were completed in less than a minute, reflecting on the excellence in training and sheer discipline in conduct by all PIA personnel.
While travelling I occasionally come across people berating the equipment which the airline operates. Deplores the state of the aircraft and how old it actually is often comparing it to the equipment which Emirates, Qatar Airways or Etihad operate. Refuting these claims, Pakistan International Airlines has been operating in losses for the past few years now. Reasons for which are countless but can be broadly categorized into management inefficiencies. Despite these facts, PIA has managed to purchase Boeing 777 airliners, which are the most advanced airliner in the skies. Phasing out its ageing Fokker F-27 fleet, PIA purchased French ATR-42-500s which are now serving its domestic routes. PIA has also completed a deal escalating into millions of dollars for 22 new aircraft to phase out its older aircraft. Aviation giants, Airbus and Boeing have expressed complete confidence in PIA Engineering in maintaining the aircraft and certifying its airworthiness. To those who worry that the aircraft can break into pieces while flying simply because it says “Pakistan International” on the fuselage, they are flying in an aircraft being flown by some of the world’s best, maintained by some of the most widely respected and are being taken care of the some of the most hospitable cabin crews in the sky.
Pakistan International Airlines like any other organization has had its share of ups and downs. Let us not forget the excellence of the fleet, pilots and engineering along with Management which allowed a brand new Boeing 720 to fly from Heathrow to Karachi in 6 hours and 44 minutes, a record for the fastest flight flown over such a distance. A record that remains unbroken to date. Let us not forget those individuals who strive to ensure that the green flag bearing the crescent and the star flies miles above the earth. With over 40 international destinations in over 30 countries spanning 4 continents, Pakistan International truly has taken Pakistan to the World. In the words of the current Managing Director of PIA, Captain Aijaz Haroon, “We shall rise”. Indeed, they shall.