Our national flag carrier is frequently in the news- albeit for all the wrong reasons. What was once known as the finest airline, and was asked to set up the famed Emirates airline when it began, is now in a sorry state of ruin, deterioration, and decay. PIA, short for Pakistan International Airlines- or sometimes jokingly known as ‘please inform Allah’- has been operating since the 40s although under the guise of Orient Airways first. Yet despite being officially the oldest airline in Pakistan, its failing quality standards have contributed greatly to not only the loss of life in extreme cases but also to the loss of its national and international standing.
In a disgraceful incident recently, about 22 kilograms of heroin was recovered from a PIA flight at Islamabad Airport that was destined to depart for London. The heroin was found in a scheduled inspection carried out by the Anti-Narcotics Force and PIA’s security team. Five people from the cabin crew have been arrested, according to sources.
Only a week ago, British authorities said they had found a quantity of heroin on the same flight in London after it landed at Heathrow Airport. The British National Crime Agency is investigating the case.
Not only that, last year in August the UK authorities arrested at least 12 staffers of PIA staffers after recovery of 6kg of heroin in the toilet of an aircraft bound for Dubai. In June 2015, the airline sacked five cabin staffers who had been detained in Britain on the accusation of trying to smuggle mobile phones and foreign currency.
In 2013, a PIA pilot was jailed for nine months in Britain after being found to exceed Britain’s legal alcohol limit of three times for flying, right before he was due to take off with 156 people aboard.
What these incidents shed light on is the deplorable way the PIA staff and members use the airline for nefarious purposes, not only jeopardizing their own lives and reputation but also of those who are not involved, and those who use the service regularly.
But more importantly, what is astonishing is the callous way the airline is used for smuggling contraband, and the possible involvement of authorities in the process. It is clear that authorizes are not just complicit in this organized smuggling racket but also condone it. After the incident it was reported that the aviation division has issued directives calling for checking of every international flight by Anti Narcotic Force, PIA Securities, PIA Vigilance, Customs Intelligence, and other institutions. While these security checks are part of the protocol of any international bound flight, their implementation now sheds light on the lax attitude PIA and airport authorities place on the safety and security of passengers and the crew. Moreover, there doesn’t seem to be serious consequences for offenders, who are usually let off, but are not subjected to further investigations.
The careless use of the aircraft can not only become hazardous but can be dangerous at a time when terrorism knows no bounds; the aircraft can be filled with explosives and used as a manipulation tactic. PIA has been hijacked a number of times in the past.
Vigilance has to come from the top, where the management takes certain steps to ensure that not only are all PIA staffers accountable, but the consequences meted out are greater and more severe. But mostly, PIA staffers need to be thoroughly trained in international standards, whether that includes the condition of the plane itself, the attitude of the cabin crew, the responsibility of the captain, or the forthcoming approach of senior management. PIA is synonymous with Pakistan; if improved, the airline can be used as a platform to reflect a better more mature image of the country we all love.