Will still have too many employees after VSS

PIA aims to have about 7,000 to 8,000 employees after the current Voluntary Separation Scheme, down from the current count of 14,500 employees, which it currently has for 29 planes and plans to outsource certain functions it sees as non-core, according to a report it has filed in the Supreme Court. That gives it a ratio of 500 employees per plane, which would come down to about 250, which would make it comparable to Emirates, which currently has a ratio of 231 employees per plane with 62,356 employees for 269 planes, but would still leave it well behind such airlines as Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines and Etihad, with ratios of 191, 94 and 211 respectively.

One of the major problems with PIA is that it was already losing heavily and was thus a burden on the government, even though it had a huge advantage with the expatriate traffic as the national flag carrier. And then the covid-19 pandemic hit. The aviation industry before had some winners and some losers, but after the pandemic it had been more badly hit than economies as a whole and other industries, because social distancing had led to the imposition of travel restrictions, with flights, both domestic and international, being either banned by governments or cancelled by airlines. PIA was already overmanned, because governments had always seen it as a source of jobs for the boys. This lack of merit led not just to fraudulent degrees being submitted but to rampant unionization. PIA sees saving in entering joint ventures with companies already in the field of engineering operations and inflight catering, saying that this would save it Rs 10.3 billion annually.

Just as the Pakistan Steel Mills employees were to be given a separation package, PIA employees are to be retrenched so that the airline may be privatized. This desire to get rid of loss-making enterprises rather than manage them better does not reflect well on a government which campaigned against the previous government’s privatization attempt. What the government is doing is not likely to be enough to turn around the airline’s flagging fortunes. The purpose of having a national flag carrier, to provide a service to its citizens, should not be forgotten.

Published in Pakistan Today on December 17, 2020