PIA once ruled the skies; what went down?

By Ahsan Mehmood.

The national flag carrier is a total wreck. Pakistan International Airlines has never been in a worse state, till date. Recently, the ATR crash that killed north of 40 people was not only a national tragedy, it marked a certain rut for PIA; everything started going downhill that point onwards.

From sacrificing black goats on the tarmac for a safe flight to transporting Senators to the wrong destination (Yes this happened! Sherry Rehman was that Senator!) to damaging French airplanes on the airstrip; PIA seems to have done it all. In the past decade or so, PIA has faced the harshest criticism and not without cause; when the decision to privatize the national flag carrier came along it was already in the doldrums. Out of a total fleet of 97, 36 planes are operational. The situation seems cringe-worthy, and it really is. But it has not always been this way. Pakistan International Airlines was once considered one of the finest airlines in the world.

PIA advertisement from the airline’s glory era.

This Advertisement is from 1979. It says here that PIA is hiring Foreign Aviation professionals on HUGE salaries and that these people will operate from Karachi. The advertisement is let out by PIA London chapter, and the hiring committee seems to have been operating from the United States. The base of operations released this advertisement, let’s hear it again, in 1979. 38 years ago. Seems something like the aviation giant Emirates would do, right? This ad is as original as anything.

Oh by the way, PIA launched Emirates Airlines. That happened too. Quaid e Azam Muhammad Ali Jinnah felt the need to have a national flag carrier so he requested the wealthy Mirza Ahmed Isphahani for a loan. Orient airways was rechristened as Pakistan Airlines and then there was no stopping PIA. PIA had the honor of being Air Force One to the President of the United States, the only Non-US commercial aircraft to have the honor. Theodore Roosevelt dedicated an entire page in his biography to PIA, expressing his delight at the wonderful service and the courteous and highly professional staff.

The appointment of Air Marshal Nur Khan is said to have marked a new glorious era of success for PIA, 1959 onwards. For the next two decades, PIA marked its prime, carrying the national flag with utmost elegance. PIA was in all its glory, soaring around world in an awe inspiring dominance. Air Marshal Nur Khan’s era saw inductions of Boeings, private vessels and helicopters. PIA was also utilized for military transport, being a staple Air Force One, transporting foreign and local dignitaries improving every single day, launching new airlines and achieving milestones. From the acquisition of some of the finest hotels in the world to contributing to rescue operations around the globe, PIA saw it all, did it all.

The whole affair seems far-fetched and dreamy but PIA does have a rich history and a dark present, let’s hope against hope for a better future? Let’s hope that PIA somehow crawls out of this abyss and gets back on track. Let’s hope for the greater good and let’s contribute to it. Let’s help our National flag carrier in our own various ways. There can never be another Nur Khan, but let’s follow his legacy, his methods? Is it all too much to ask in lieu of gaining back the best airline in the world, to be proud of, to launch a future Emirates?

 The writer is a business student at Institute of Business Management, hailing from Karachi.

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