Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is grappling with a severe crisis, resulting in the widespread cancellation of flights that has left countless passengers in a state of distress. This dire situation is a direct consequence of the airline's deteriorating financial health. Over the past week, PIA has been compelled to cancel approximately 77 flights, both international and domestic, owing to its inability to secure the necessary fuel for its operations.
At present, PIA is operating with a meager fleet of just 16 aircraft. This partial state-owned airline, currently undergoing privatization discussions within the caretaker government, has found itself entangled in a complicated dispute with the Pakistan State Oil (PSO) refinery, its fuel supplier. This predicament arises from the non-payment of dues and the deterioration of its credit line.
News agency PTI quoted a representative from PSO as saying that PIA owed billions of rupees in unpaid bills. "This is the second time in seven days we have had to suspend supplying fuel to PIA because of the mounting unpaid dues. They are making partial payments to meet their daily fuel requirements but the dues remain unpaid as yet," he said.
This precarious turn of events has severely impacted PIA's financial stability, with daily losses reaching into the millions. A spokesperson from the airline confirmed the cancellation of 77 flights after the PSO curtailed their fuel supply, news agency PTI reported. Nevertheless, the situation has somewhat improved as payments have been initiated and discussions are ongoing with PSO. The exact number of flights operating on Monday remained unconfirmed, but there was optimism that schedules would normalize by the end of the day.
The disruption caused immense inconvenience for passengers on both international and domestic routes. Many travelers conveyed their astonishment at the extent of the crisis, emphasizing that it was the worst they had ever witnessed from the national carrier.
Aviation experts attribute PIA's grim state of affairs to long-standing issues such as overstaffing and political appointments within the organization. Furthermore, the government's decision a decade ago to adopt an open skies policy significantly contributed to the airline's woes.
The mismanagement of PIA over recent years has led to the seizure of leased aircraft in foreign countries due to non-payment of dues. This issue came to the fore when, in July, a leasing company detained one of PIA's aircraft in Kuala Lumpur until outstanding dues were settled.
Adding to the airline's woes, a former federal aviation minister, Ghulam Sarwar Khan, severely damaged PIA's credibility in Europe and other nations by asserting in the National Assembly that over 30 percent of civilian pilots in Pakistan possessed "fake" licenses. According to Khan, 262 out of the country's 860 active pilots allegedly didn't take their own exams but instead paid others to appear on their behalf, casting a shadow over the integrity of the country's aviation industry.