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July 9, 2020

The bygone golden era of PIA


July 9, 2020

LAHORE: Banned by the European Union and the United Kingdom following revelations by Pakistan’s aviation minister about civil national pilots’ licenses, the Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has surely won global embarrassment for the country, but there was a time when this national flag carrier had been bagging laurels for decades.

Let us revisit the past glory of the Pakistan International Airlines. Research conducted by the “Jang Group and Geo Television Network,” by taking into account the information available on PIA website and archives of numerous local media houses, one finds that the cash-strapped PIA’s 762 weekly flights used to take off or land every six minutes in 62 cities across four continents of the world — some 39 years ago — in 1981.

Those were the golden days when 44 airlines and agencies used to send their crews for training to PIA which had hired famous national and international dress designers like Feroze Cowasji, Pierre Cardin and Sir Hardy Amies for designing of the uniforms worn by its flight attendants.

The past success story of PIA can be gauged from one of its 1981 advertisements appearing in local Press.

The national carrier’s 1981 advertisement had stated: “A PIA aircraft now takes off or lands every 6 minutes on its world-wide network. A schedule of PIA’s 762 flights a week on 62 cities across four continents - takes off or lands every six minutes round the clock.”

According to the 1981 advertisement under review, PIA used to possess a fleet of B747s, DC-10s, A-300s and 707 aircraft till 1981 at least; and there used to be 109 departures per day.

The advertisement had more to claim: “It is these standards that have attracted 44 airlines and agencies to send their personnel to PIA for training. PIA in its proper perspective is not only the national flag carrier, but also an airline competitors regard all over the world with high esteem.”

Another PIA advertisement from 1979 had revealed that the national carrier had almost 3.5 million passengers every year and the average ticket preparation time about 36 years ago had dropped to 6.5 minutes.

In November 1978, the PIA baggage mishandling claims did not exceed 2 per 10,000 passengers flown.

Yet another PIA advertisement from December 1968, celebrating decade of success enjoyed by the airline from 1958 to 1968, had stated: “In 1958, about two hundred passengers used to travel by PIA. In 1968, the number had soared to over a million passengers.”

An advertisement from 1969 had acknowledged the role played by skillful PIA aircraft engineers in establishing airline’s high standard 97.7 percent flights punctuality rate.

Having flown its inaugural flight between Karachi and London via Cairo on February 1, 1955, PIA had helped establish the Emirates Airlines in the mid-1980s by leasing two of its airplanes, the Airbus A300 and Boeing 737, besides being instrumental in providing technical and administrative assistance to the new carrier.

It is imperative to note that on April 29, 1964, PIA became the first non-communist airline to operate a service to the Chinese city of Shanghai, and to fly between Asia and Europe via Moscow.

Here follow some more claims the PIA website had listed to highlight its successes:

“PIA was the first airline to introduce an alternative route to China over the mighty Karakoram Mountains. It was the first airline from an Asian land country and the first airline from a Muslim country to fly the famous American aircraft called the Lockheed L-1049 Super Constellation.

It was the first Asian airline to operate a jet aircraft and induct the new technology— Boeing 737-300 aircraft— besides being the first in Asia to be granted maintenance approval by the US Federal Aviation Administration and the Air Registration Board, predecessor of the British Civil Aviation Authority.

It was the first airline in South Asia to introduce auto-ticketing facility and to show in-flight movies on international routes. PIA was the first airline in the world to fly to Tashkent, capital of the newly independent state of Uzbekistan. It was the first Asian airline to start flights to Oslo, the capital of Norway.

It was the first airline in the world to induct Boeing 777-200LR, the world’s longest range commercial airliner. It was the first airline in South Asia to offer the facility of seat reservation through mobile phone.”

PIA's current financials:Having succeeded in increasing its annual revenue from Rs103.5 billion to Rs147.5 billion during 2019, the first time it had managed to do so in the past eight years, PIA had hence recorded an increase of 43 per cent in its annual revenue.

Under Air Marshal Arshad Malik, PIA’s operating loss was thus significantly reduced by 76 per cent in 2019 as compared to what it was in 2018.

According to media reports surfacing on May 19, 2020, the loss of the Pakistan International Airlines, before interest and taxation, was also reduced by 59 per cent as compared to 2018.

The media had quoted the annual report of the national flag carrier, which was submitted to the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan and Pakistan Stock Exchange.