PIA was created and funded by the state to provide affordable, reliable and safe air transportation to the public who pay to travel. While there is no doubt that PIA employees would be inconvenienced by the long-overdue shifting of operational and administrative headquarters, it is the convenience of passengers which should be the priority. Revenue generated by passengers pays salaries and keeps the airline commercially viable.

PIA deteriorated from a profitable airline to a white elephant because of the mediocrity of political appointees at the helm by successive civil and uniformed governments and their lack of competence to run it as a commercial enterprise with help of best-qualified talent recruited on merit. The other factor was the grant of traffic rights by various governments to foreign airlines without protecting the financial interests of Pakistani airlines. Every government, under pressure, or incompetence, failed to understand that commercial aviation has nothing in common with military aviation. It should not be a dumping ground for retired officers and political appointees.

Ever since the opening of a more direct, shorter and economical air corridor over the airspace of former the Soviet Union, all major profitable airlines, flying from SE Asia, Australia etc to Europe and trans-Atlantic destinations, no longer find it viable to use Karachi as a transit stopover for flights, nor overfly it. It is precisely for this reason that Virgin Air and British Air were eager to operate direct flights to northern hubs of Islamabad and Lahore from where almost 80% of revenue passenger and cargo traffic originates. Similar is the choice of all other airlines based in the Gulf etc.

The bitter reality is that there was a time when Karachi was the convenient and economical choice for major airlines to pick up passengers and KLM, Air France and Pan Am preferred it as an economical technical stopover for long haul flights. Unfortunately, that is no longer the case.

The choice is to either shut down PIA or privatize it. Pakistan cannot afford to sustain this white elephant, just to cater to the convenience of its employees.

Published in The Nation, January 13, 2021