ISLAMABAD/KARACHI/LAHORE - Around 1,500 intending pilgrims left for Saudi Arabia in the four Jeddah-bound flights as Pakistan International Airlines launched its pre-Haj operations on Monday to facilitate the transportation of more than 78,000 intending pilgrims.
The four pre-Haj flights originated from Lahore, Quetta, Islamabad and Karachi. Two Boeing 747 aircrafts (PK-2301 from Lahore and PK-2101 from Islamabad) and Boeing 777 (PK-2701 from Quetta and PK-2001 from Karachi) were used in the Monday’s pre-Haj flights.
More than 70,000 people would be leaving for Saudi Arabia in 163 PIA pre-Haj flights whereas 8,000 people would be travelling in the PIA flights outside Haj operations this year.
Some reports had suggested that PIA pre-Haj flights had started on Sunday with two PIA flights having taken off to Jeddah from Lahore and Karachi but the airliner clarified that the flights were weekly scheduled in which some intending pilgrims had left for Saudi Arabia, which was not part of pre-Haj flight operations arrangement.
Compared to the last year, the number of PIA flights and intending pilgrims to be flown to Saudi Arabia this year has shown a drastic reduction of over 16,000 people, which, according to the PIA, is in consequence of the reduction of 20 percent Haj quota by the Saudi authorities due to the ongoing construction at certain facilities at the Holy Kaaba. Last year, 200 PIA-pre-Haj flights had carried 84,812 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. Of them, 82,823 pilgrims had left in 196 PIA flights from Pakistan and 1,989 pilgrims had flown to Saudi Arabia from Rangoon in the four PIA flights. As many as 9,207 pilgrims had travelled through PIA regular scheduled flights outside the Haj operations flights, bringing the total to 94,019 pilgrims that went to perform Haj.
The pre-Haj flights will be originated from Pakistan’s seven international airports, Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Quetta, Peshawar, Multan and Sialkot. Roughly, three to five flights will take off every day from major airports.
The first Jeddah-bound flight from Multan PK-2313 (Boeing 747) is scheduled on September 15 and that of PK-2337 (Boeing 747) from Sialkot is scheduled on September 15. The highest number of eight PIA pre-Haj flights would originate on October 5. With the exception of two Madina-bound flights from Lahore, all the PIA-pre-Haj flights would be Jeddah-bound. Moreover, all the PIA flights, except one flight from Madina, would originate from Jeddah to Pakistan. The two Madina-bound flights are PK-2215 (Boeing 747) scheduled on September 16 and PK-2053 (Boeing 747) scheduled on October 5. The only flight PK 744 (Airbus 310) originating from Madina in the PIA post-Haj flight operations would be Karachi-bound, scheduled on November 15. The three types of PIA aircraft Boeing 747, Boeing 777 and Airbus 310 are being used in the Haj flight operations. The airliner says it has not acquired any aircraft on lease for Haj flight operations. The Boeing 747 aircraft being used in the Haj operations has seating capacity of 500 passengers, Boeing 777 has seating capacity of 330 passengers while the seating capacity of Airbus 310 is 250 passengers.
The post-Haj flight operations would start on October 20 and conclude on November 18.
Unlike last year, the number of pre and post-Haj flights is same (163) this year. Last year, the PIA had brought 83,019 pilgrims back in Pakistan in 197 post-Haj flights but one-fourth of the airline’s post-Haj flights had seen massive delays. As many as 49 of the total 197 flights that brought 83,019 pilgrims back home saw prolonged delays. The remaining 148 flights were on time.
This suggested that flight delay rate stood at 24.9 per cent while that of flight punctuality rate was counted at 75.1 per cent. The pre-Haj operation last year had started on September 19 and concluded on October 20 whereas the post-Haj operation started on Oct 31 and concluded on November 30.
Released last month, the PIA’s Haj flight operations data suggests that 25 Jeddah-bound flights are scheduled to carry 12,515 intending pilgrims from Islamabad, 17 flights from Karachi will carry 6,985 intending pilgrims that would include 1,623 intending pilgrims from Sukkur, 14 flights from Lahore would carry 6,944 intending pilgrims, 15,463 intending pilgrims through 47 flights from Peshawar, 10,199 from Quetta through 31 flights, 6,170 through 12 flights from Multan and 3,590 from Sialkot through seven pre-Haj flights would be landing in Jeddah this year.
In Karachi, PIA’s pre-Haj first flight PK 2001 took off from the Haj Terminal for Jeddah, carrying 276 intending pilgrims. According to the PIA spokesman, intending Haj pilgrims were seen off by PIA Managing Director Muhammad Junaid Younas, Director Corporate Planning and others.
Later, talking to media, Younas said that the entire Haj operation would be conducted with PIA’s own fleet without leasing any aircraft. “This will be huge saving for the National Flag Carrier,” he said adding PIA will operate Haj flights with dedicated two Boeing 747 and two Boeing 777 aircrafts. Boeing 777 aircraft will mainly be operated from Karachi, Peshawar and Quetta whereas Lahore, Islamabad, Multan and Sialkot will entirely be operated by Boeing 747 aircraft, he said.
On the other hand, PIA’s announced and published scheduled operations to Frankfurt, Amsterdam and Bombay have been disrupted due to the non-scheduled pre and post Haj operation which would continue for at least 12 weeks.
No airline which aims to have an assured share of the market can afford to lose credibility of its published schedules. Independent Aviation analysts doubt whether PIA could restart the suspended operations to Frankfurt or Amsterdam because it will be an uphill task to retain the market share after the clients’ confidence has been shattered through such non-professional marketing strategy.
These clients would have shifted to more reliable airlines offering an assured commitment to their published scheduled operations.
It would have been far better and more economical for PIA to conduct Haj operation with leased aircrafts, after assessing the economics of wet leasing or dry leasing of aircrafts, especially after the experience of conducting last six consecutive Haj operations in huge loss.
The intending pilgrims would have had a better deal with leased aircrafts, but it seems the priority of PIA management is not economics but utilisation of its surplus crew, given the reduced number of serviceable aircrafts.
PIA has politicised its foreign postings which have been mostly dominated by unqualified people. A review of the national airline’s choice of postings to Toronto will reveal that the choice of retired army captain or a favourite air-hostess of the former PPP minister for Defense and several other Pakistani and Indian origin Canadians are a burden on PIA’s depleted finances and will have a negative impact on their marketing strategy if any.
PIA has just ended up paying a penalty of over a million British pounds for the mismanagement of its London office. PIA New York Office is another favourite of the well-connected Pakistani origin Americans to seek lucrative jobs, in spite of their disqualifications.
The PIA’s management is monopolised by powerful lobby of pilots with powerful political connections in every sitting government. They have been retaining hold on the MD office for over five years and even the change of government or burden of colossal losses of over Rs169 billion could not offset the monopoly.
When Capt Aijaz Haroon took over as the MD in March 2008, PIA losses stood at Rs42 billion which have quadrupled since then. PIA is facing Rs10 million losses on daily basis due to the mismanagement, pilferage and massive corruption by a politically-dominated management of mediocre capability. PIA’s fleet of 40 aircrafts has been reduced to under 25 aircrafts, because of the failure to maintain these aircrafts due lack of funds and spares. PIA’s former MD Capt Nadeem Yusafzai had made suicidal decision to appoint a Dubai-based vendor of ill-repute, replacing the choice of manufacturer recommended vendors.