ISLAMABAD - The National Aviation Policy (NAP) envisaging a complete revamp of Pakistan’s commercial aviation sector would be out in 120 days while the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) would move towards privatisation in the coming months, a top aviation official has said.
During a detailed interaction with The Nation on Thursday, Advisor to Prime Minister on Aviation Shujaat Azeem shared his views on a number of steps being taken to resurrect Pakistan’s nearly collapsed commercial aviation sector besides categorically responding to criticism that has followed his elevation as Pakistan’s top aviation man. “We’ve put in a lot of planning, thinking, hard work and effort to give an overhaul to the aviation sector. The NAP would be out in four months, 120 days to be specific, and the results will start showing.”
Some major decisions, Azeem said, he took after assuming the charge included streamlining the CAA flight billing system that raised revenues in billions, closure of PIA offline stations abroad (where flights operations are not conducted) and installation of sophisticated security systems and related equipments at the airports. The advisors conversation included some startling disclosures on rampantly corrupt practices in the PIA and CAA, which, according to him, inflicted financial losses to the national kitty to the tune of billions of rupees.
Regarding the much talked about privatisation of the PIA, Shujaat Azeem said that 35 per cent of the PIA shares would be sold to a potential strategic investor.
The privatisation process, he said, would be conducted in six months. Deliberations with several international companies are under way in this regard, he informed. “In my humble opinion, the government can’t effectively manage the PIA affairs without privatising it. We can’t rely on heavy bailout packages forever. We want to go for privatisation the way PTCL (Pakistan Telecommunication Company Limited) was privatised. But first, we want PIA to stand on its feet because no one would want to buy the shares of a loss-making entity. Unneeded operations have to be called off, unnecessary stations closed and extra personnel have to be shown the door.”
Following this policy, the PIA offline stations in Chicago, Sydney, Glasgow and Yanbu have been closed down, Azeem said. “The staff was deployed there, perks and privileges were enjoyed, heavy salaries were drawn but there were no flights at all. What could be worse than that?”
He particularly mentioned of a PIA office in the London where some 69 personnel were appointed. “As many as 44 of them were hired from United Kingdom and 25 personnel had gone from here. More than 55,000 to 60,000 pounds were annually being incurred on every PIA staffer in London. There were two offices of which one was absolutely unnecessary. We closed it down and called back the additional staff.”
The PIA Amsterdam station would be another one to be closed with no flights landing at or originating from the said station after September 3 this year, the aviation head informed.
Elaborating on the corrupt practices, the aviation advisor said that the CAA in 2007 bought generic system from New Zealand for automatic billing of the foreign flights that were using Pakistan’s airspace. “What I found out was that this sophisticated system was very much installed but it was not used and manual billing was conducted for the purpose of manipulation in order to gobble money by maintaining erroneous and dubious flights records.”
Azeem said he ordered making functional the automatic system for billing, which, he claimed, raised the CAA flight billing revenues from 19 billion rupees to Rs 32 billion. “The flight billing revenue took a major jump because corrupt practices were brought to an end. The officials responsible for negligence were suspended and an inquiry had been launched against them. We are targeting the figures of Rs 50 billion as far as flight billing revenues are concerned,” he said. A Spanish company has been hired to probe irregularities in manual billing, which would complete its probe within 30 days, the aviation chief furthered.
To a query regarding unusual delay in the construction of New Islamabad International Airport (NIIA) with billions of rupees incurred on the project so far, the PM’s aviation advisor said that due to unprecedented corruption in the past, the project had been delayed. A detailed probe is initiated in this regard, to be completed in 90 days, he informed. “In the first place, it should not be the job of the CAA to build airports. This is the job of professional contactors, and not that of a regulatory authority. There’ve been nerve-wrecking accounts of corruption at NIIA. From runway to terminal building construction, there were commissions and illegal money everywhere,” he said adding that the airport would be expectedly functional by 2015.
Shujaat Azeem, who is subjected to criticism from certain quarters for having dual-nationality, said, the constitution of Pakistan did not bar him from having dual citizenship. “I am not going to become a parliamentarian. I am an advisor and Pakistan’s constitution does not bar me from having dual nationality. Most of overseas Pakistanis have dual nationalities and they are as patriotic and loyal to this country as any other Pakistani. We must not downgrade the intentions and contributions of overseas Pakistanis in their efforts to revive Pakistan’s economy. I want nothing from PIA, CAA or Aviation Division. I am here to pursue Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s vision and play my part to contribute something positive to this country.”
Azeem believed that those elements whose personal interests were affected with his measures to revamp PIA and CAA were running a smearing campaign against him. “It’s all about corruption and the motives to grab more and more power. When I shut down the CAA manual billing system and PIA offline stations, that’s not going to be digested by some quarters whose stakes are hurt. They cry foul and they can’t help it.”
He further added, “Would you believe, the PIA got five redundant Boeing aircraft that were not required at all? We’re finding a way out as to what to do with them. Globally, 100 to 120 personnel are assigned to every aircraft but here we have 570 personnel per plane at the PIA and 750 employees are assigned to every PIA kitchen. When I talk about laying them off and reducing our expenditure, it annoys some powerful elements and it’s very obvious why they run defamation campaign against me.”
The lay-off policy would be phase-wise, based on natural depletion process that focuses on abandoning the policy of granting extensions after retirements and bringing an end to the practice of contractual appointments.
Responding to another criticism involving the appointment of PIA Board of Directors (BoD) and its chairman, Shujaat Azeem said that the selection of BoD at any state-owned enterprise was the government’s prerogative. “Such slots are not advertised because it’s very much the government’s discretion how to fill them in. We have duly advertised the position of managing director/chief executive officer of the PIA because it was required to do so under Supreme Courts’ orders but BoD selection is a different matter altogether. We have appointed those people as BoD members and chairman who have excelled in their fields and have a sound professional stature.”
The advisor to prime minister on aviation further informed that PIA would buy ten Boeing 737-900 new generation fuel efficient aircraft on dry lease in a couple of months. For this purpose, three to 3.5 billion rupees would be required from the government and $ 250 million to $ 300 million would be taken from the banks in the form of loans. The results of restructuring and revamping the aviation sector would start showing in three months, the aviation chief reiterated.