As part of its turnaround, and in its bid to improve its image and increase its revenues, Pakistan International Airline (PIA) will soon be getting a new Inflight Entertainment System (IFE) for its 8 Boeing 777 planes.
But as can be expected from PIA’s inner culture of politics, powerful lobbies are at play to frustrate this positive initiative – GVS has reliably learnt. It may sound unbelievable but Pakistan’s national flag carrier’s long haul flights have been without an effective IFE system for quite sometime creating embarrassing scenes.
PIA crews were often found giving bizarre explanations to passengers for the system not working on this particular plane – sad reality was that the system was not working on any plane.
What is IFE?
Inflight Entertainment Systems (IFE) are systems of entertainment that provide a choice of movies, music and games to passengers. These are now a standard feature of modern airlines and become important for long haul flights to Europe and UK (London & Manchester for instance) because passengers – especially families with children become bored and need something to keep them busy.
The objections that have been raised include among other things that Ms. Avionics is a new company, has not been in business for long and is owned by an ex-PAF officer
PIA’s competitors on these lucrative routes – the GCC airlines like Emirates, Etihad and Qatar – offer top of the line entertainment systems with hundreds of choices from movies, dramas, music and games.
PIA has been managing because it could offer direct, shorter and convenient flights from Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad to cites in UK and Europe – unlike Emirates, Etihad and Qatar that touch upon their hubs in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Doha respectively.
Read more: PIA: A Tale of Glory and Neglect
But the absence of IFE system has been adversely affecting PIA’s ability to provide a standard expected flying experience – and thus eroding what is called in aviation language as “seat factor”. One wonders: why PIA has waited so long to put up a decent IFE system? The answer lies primarily in its precarious financial situation. The airline currently is saddled with debts of around Rs. 460 billion.
Why it took PIA so long to secure an IFI System?
PIA, in 2016, had finally managed to give a contract to an international firm, Panasonic, for the up-gradation of PIA’s existing IFE. But it was concluded at US$50 million, (Approx: Rs. 5.5 billion then in 2016, with US $ 110 to PKR) for only five aircraft, and despite its award, in the end it could not be implemented due to due to monetary challenges.
PIA’s service and image continued to suffer due to the non-availability of the IFE system. It further drove its revenues and seat factors down because increasingly improve in-flight services were being offered by other carriers. In June 2019, PIA again floated an open tender to acquire services for the provision of Inflight Entertainment System on 8 of its owned Boeing 777 aircraft.
Inflight Entertainment Systems (IFE) are systems of entertainment that provide a choice of movies, music and games to passengers
It was open to both up-gradation of existing equipment if possible or changing of the system altogether if it meant having an entertainment system and experience in line with leading industry players. Two companies were shortlisted: AAR International Corp (Singapore) and Avionic Solutions Private Limited (Pakistan).
Both were shortlisted because both met the requisite criteria. It was an open transparent tender, its evaluation criteria and its results were both published beforehand on the PPRA website as per Rule 35 of Public Procurement Rules.
The bid results, available at PPRA website, clearly show that M/s Avionic Solutions with its bid of PKR 699.916 Million was much lower than the other company M/s AAR International Corp with PKR 2.786 Billion bid. It was an open tender, with financial bids opened in presence of both the parties. Given the much lower bid by Ms. Avionics Solutions (Approx. Rs 70 crore vs. Rs. 2.8 billion by M/s AAR International) the contract was awarded to M/s Avionic Solutions in July 2019.
Objections by PIA lobbies?
However, GVS has learnt from reliable sources inside PIA that now some lobbies from inside the PIA (unhappy with the new management) are working with powerful sections of media to even frustrate this attempt to get a decent IFE system for the airline and a media campaign is about to start to fail this attempt to provide airline with a decent IFE system (Inflight Entertainment System) at affordable costs.
The objections that have been raised include among other things that Ms. Avionics is a new company, has not been in business for long and is owned by an ex-PAF officer. Since the company is new its provisions of IFE will be defective or unsafe for Boeing planes and M/s AAR, the Singapore based company had 70 years of experience in the aviation industry.
In June 2019, PIA again floated an open tender to acquire services for the provision of Inflight Entertainment System on 8 of its owned Boeing 777 aircraft
PIA sources, GVS has spoken with, maintain that IFE systems are a relatively new phenomenon and do not need experience of 70 years; PIA’s monetary situation compels for cost-effective solutions (Rs. 70 crore versus Rs. 2.8 Billion).
And that the contract to M/s Avionics has been awarded on the strict condition that IFE system will only be accepted after due certification from international bodies like FAA (Federal Aviation Administration of United States) European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Pakistan.
These certifications are mandatory for commercial airlines and these long haul flights, of Boeing 777, will be to destinations in UK and Europe and hopefully to the US in time when the routes begin. PIA sources also point out that approval of Boeing Commercial Airplanes will also be mandatory – because any provisions and additions to such planes are subject to the approval of the manufacturer.
PIA sources maintain that airline immediately needs to adopt a cost-effective solution taking into consideration its financial health. Additionally, with indigenous solution, PIA will have greater flexibility to modify it as per its requirements, improve it and upgrade it without going into restrictive contracts normally in practice with western equipment providers. It remains to be seen if PIA management succeeds in its modest attempt or this too will be stuck due to PIA’s internal politics.