Home News Analysis Is government planning to move PIA head office from Karachi to Islamabad?

Is government planning to move PIA head office from Karachi to Islamabad?

Since its inception in 1955, PIA’s headquarters had always been based in Karachi. However, since January 2019, it has been reported that the federal government has decided to move PIA head office from Karachi to the capital. In the latest move, Senate has passed a resolution against shifting of PIA head office. Interestingly, the Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan opposed the resolution after initially saying that there was no such plan.

Karachi to Islamabad
Karachi to Islamabad

News Desk |

The Senate has adopted a resolution opposing the government’s move to relocate the national flag-carrier head office from Karachi to Islamabad despite the government and its allies’ stance against the resolution.

The Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan opposed the resolution calling for retention of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) headquarters in Karachi after initially saying that there was no such plan. However, the resolution was passed by a majority vote.

Since its inception in 1955, PIA’s headquarters had always been based in Karachi. However, since January 2019, it has been reported that the federal government has decided to move PIA head office from Karachi to the capital. The reports further said that the decision was reportedly taken during a meeting with Prime Minister Imran Khan in the chair.

Rehman said the minister has also skipped the meetings of aviation committee where the issues surrounding the move were raised. She revealed that the minister was absent for a third time to clarify the position.

The primary reason for moving the PIA head office to the capital was the Aviation Division being in Islamabad. The meeting in January had also decided to formulate a new aviation policy focused on achieving profitability for PIA, adding that the final recommendations over the shifting of the office would be presented in late July 2019.

On Monday, while speaking on the floor of the House, Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) parliamentary leader Sherry Rehman wondered why the government was opposing the resolution if it did not have any such plan to shift the PIA headquarters.

Rehman said that the federal minister denied the move but in the same breath argued that PIA representatives face difficulties in attending parliamentary committee meetings. “Has this not always been the case? The government should give a definitive statement about motives behind the move. Lastly, why is this entire process being kept so secretive? It is unfortunate that we are forced to ask this question.”

Read more: No protocol for anyone: PIA follows Govt. austerity drive

Rehman said the minister has also skipped the meetings of aviation committee where the issues surrounding the move were raised. She revealed that the minister was absent for a third time to clarify the position. The PPP leader along with 42 lawmakers of opposition parties had moved the resolution against the shifting of PIA headquarters saying: “there’s a general view that the government is trying to centralize every service, authority, and just about any activity or resource to Islamabad.”

In her speech, the media reported, she said the Jinnah International Airport happened to be Pakistan’s biggest airport and would remain so. “Let me tell you, the traffic in Islamabad has not increased to the extent that it has in Karachi. This is because Karachi is the commercial hub of Pakistan. There are various examples to support that airline headquarters are based in the country’s commercial hub,” she was quoted as saying.

Hidden Agenda: Government Tells 70 PIA Officials to Move to Islamabad Overnight

Rehman questioned if there was a hidden agenda because the minister verbally assured the house that there was no plan to shift PIA headquarters but opposed the resolution. In support of her argument, she revealed that she has received a letter stating that around 70 officials, including crew members, pilots and officials, were informed overnight they would be shifted to Islamabad.

Defending the government’s decision, he said, PIA officials have to appear in parliament and that officials were being transferred to Islamabad on the basis of their domiciles.

This does not happen anywhere else in the world, she said, why is the government moving 70 officials overnight without proper notice being served in advance, without being facilitated in terms of their accommodation and allowances, and without prior discussions with the Collective Bargaining Agent (CBA).

“This shows that there is a hidden agenda. If the government has a justification for any of this, now is the time to voice it. The government is crippling Pakistan’s commercial hub because it lacks political control there. It is taking Karachi’s flights and re-routing them to Islamabad, it is trying to strip Karachi of its commercial base, of its roots, of its power to hold PIA in a commercial centre and you are telling us with your one-unit behaviour that this is not happening? It has marginalised the CBA role and is trying to choke the unions by imposing the Essential Services Act. It should explain on what pretext it has decided to do so,” Dawn quoted her as saying in Senate.

Other opposition members, including Raza Rabbani, Mushahidullah Khan, Moula Bakhsh Chandio and Chaudhary Tanveer, said Karachi is the commercial hub of the country and the PIA head office should not be shifted to Islamabad.

Read more: Asad Umar lashes out at PIA for delayed flights

They said headquarters of the State Bank of Pakistan, the National Bank of Pakistan and the Civil Aviation Authority are also located in Karachi. They said shifting of the PIA headquarters to Islamabad would create problems for hundreds of thousands of employees.

Will Shifting Help PIA’s Efficiency?

Opposing the resolution, Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan denied the government was shifting the airline’s headquarters. However, he said, some of its departments were being moved to the federal capital. Defending the government’s decision, he said, PIA officials have to appear in parliament and that officials were being transferred to Islamabad on the basis of their domiciles. He said 70 percent of the PIA’s passengers come from Lahore and Islamabad while a mere 30 percent from Karachi, giving an impression that shifting of the head office would increase PIA’s efficiency.

It is important to note that the national flag-carrier has made several moves to regain its lost glory during the past few months, including a revival of several suspended routes, closure of loss-making routes, an announcement of Executive Economy class and many more.

On April 20 this year, the aviation division minister had informed the Senate that PIA losses had surged to Rs416 billion, adding that efforts were being made to acquire aircrafts on dry leases to enhance flight operations.

Responding to the concerns, Khan said neither any decision was taken nor any directive was issued to shift the PIA headquarters to Islamabad. “The issue is being politicized. A decision would be taken in larger national and the institution interest,” he said, adding that consensus of both houses would be taken before taking any such decision. The minister said losses of the PIA have started to reduce owing to the steps taken by the government, adding flights are being operated on commercially viable routes.

Overstaffing in PIA by PML-N, PPP

PIA today is in a mess because of overstaffing and hefty salaries and perks and privileges, particularly for its top officials. In 2016, Pakistan Muslim League Nawaz (PML-N) had quietly recruited 1,000 people in PIA, taking its accumulative losses to Rs254.7 billion. By January 2019, the accumulated losses increased to Rs431.1bn, while loans/borrowings touched Rs247.7bn. A year earlier, the National Assembly’s special committee on PIA privatization was told that the PML-N government had inducted 400 employees in PIA.

The previous government had repeatedly blamed the Pakistan Peopels Party (PPP) regime for overstaffing PIA. However, the addition of 1,000 employees in its tenure put the ruling party in league with PPP, which recruited 1,435 people in the airlines from 2010 to 2013. The PPP, however, never hid its intentions of giving jobs to its voters.

Read more: Revival of national airline: US govt. will help PIA resume direct…

During the tenures of both PML-N and PPP governments, it was reported, the overall number of PIA employees had come down from 18,036 in 2008 to 14,847 by the end of 2015. In January 2019, it emerged that 18,000 workers were on the airline payroll and the number was high compared to international standards.

PIA Losses Jump to Rs 416 Billion

On April 20 this year, the aviation division minister had informed the Senate that PIA losses had surged to Rs416 billion, adding that efforts were being made to acquire aircrafts on dry leases to enhance flight operations.

The minister had said only non-commercially viable routes were closed while viable ones were being opened, adding that domestic and international flights were reduced due to shortage of aircrafts. Currently, he said, PIA was operating its flights on 18 international routes including UK, Italy, France, Spain, Norway, Denmark, Saudi Arabia, Oman, UAE, Iraq, Qatar, China, Malaysia, India, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Thailand, and Canada.

Read more: Peshawar-bound PIA flight cleared after bomb hoax

To a supplementary question, Khan said construction of airport in Mansehra was mere a political announcement and no funds were allocated for it. However, he informed the house that the Chinese government had agreed to provide 100 percent grant Rs.35,270 million for the construction of new Gwadar International Airport. The constructed work is expected to begin by June 2019 by the Chinese contractor and the project is scheduled to be completed in 36 months.

Facebook Comments