KARACHI (Staff Report) – Pakistan International (PIA) is once again in dire straits due to a standoff between the Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (PALPA) and the airline management.

About 28 scheduled flights of PIA cancelled on Friday due to the unavailability of pilots and nearly four dozen flights were delayed, as the dispute between Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and PIA Airlines Pilots Association (PALPA) has deepened.

It all started when the airline revoked licences of two pilots, prompting the PALPA to announce non-cooperation with the PIA authorities. The dispute has left the passengers in quandary.

While confirming the flight cancellation, PIA cites ‘operational reason’ as cause of the flight chaos. Passengers were advised to call 111-786-786 for getting information about their flights.

According to PIA Spokesperson, the PIA management was taking immediate steps to rectify the situation as early as possible.

The PIA has activated its call centres to inform passengers about any delay in the flights through SMS and phone calls, the spokesman said.

With thousands of passengers affected, the airline will surely suffer losses running into millions. PALPA claims this is a result of mismanagement by PIA bosses.

The associations President, Captain Amir Hashmi has blamed the airline management’s inability to train pilots while still adding aircraft to the fleet.

PALPA had been extending waivers on a daily basis to PIA in the form of pilots flying beyond the stipulated flight duty time limitation (FDTL), Hashmi said.

“It is not ethically or morally possible for us to continue extending favours to the airline management” Hashmi told the media, adding that the pilots extended favours and were then penalized for doing so.

Just such a case is that of Captain I. Kaleem and Captain Zahid who were suspended for one and two years respectively for violating the FDTL.

PALPA disclosed, while operating a flight from Sialkot to Riyadh and back, the two pilots informed PIA that the round trip would take him beyond the flight duty time limitation.

According to sources, the captain was instructed to fly first to Karachi where a second crew would board and then the flight would carry on to Riyadh.

When the captain informed the passengers of this change in flight plans, PALPA sources claim, they were enraged and threatened to break down the cockpit door if the flight was taken to Karachi.

The crew, according to PALPA, was issued fresh instructions to continue to Riyadh even though it would be in violation of the flight duty time limitation. Following orders the pilots took the flight to Riyadh but were later served suspensions by the CAA for doing so.

In order to avoid such FDTL violations the pilots association claims it has been demanding the implementation of the PALPA-PIAC Working Agreement 2013-2015.

PALPA adds, that while a draft of the agreement had been submitted to the airline management, instead of holding discussions the airline management adopted measures which directly put flight safety at risk.

One such measure according to PALPA sources is the hiring of pilots on contract despite the PIA chairman’s statement in a press conference that PALPA would be consulted on the matter.

Contractual pilots, according to PALPA, can be easily pressurised by authorities to bypass regulations because of their temporary employment status ultimately jeopardizing flight safety.

When asked how long the current standoff will continue, the PALPA president responded that it would continue until their demands are met, which include the implementation of the ‘working agreement’ and certain issues regarding illegal appointments in the airline.

In a statement issued on Thursday, the national carrier put the entire blame on PALPA leadership, which the airline claims is “blackmailing the management to agree to unjust promotions and unjustified benefits for PALPA executives.”

While the statement claims: “PIA management is constantly engaged with PALPA to amicably resolve the matter at the earliest”, the airlines top executives are in Dubai.

PIA has also claimed that out of 125 flights that the airline was to operate on Thursday were cancelled due to PALPA asking pilots “to refuse flights at the last minute, disrupting flight schedules” which the PIA says resulted in the cancellations.

PIA highlighted that due to “the irresponsible attitude of PALPA at a crucial time, [the] Haj flight schedule will also be affected and PALPA would be directly responsible for any misery caused to the Hajis, including those who are injured.”

Speaking to Geo TV, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Aviation Captain Shujaat Azeem said “PALPA is an association, they are there for the welfare of the pilots and we have always been talking to them, to talk about the welfare of the pilots, but they [PALPA] cannot be the managers and cannot be telling who to hire and whom to fire.”

Azeem said, their main demand is the removal of the Director Flight Operations (DFO), which he added, is likely because the DFO is not listening to PALPA’s demands.

“They came to me and requested to sign the working agreement, which we are very happy to sign but it cannot be done like this,” at the same time stressing that “If we have to fix the airline, then we have to take hard decisions.”

He complained, that PALPA is demanding which pilot should be posted on which aircraft and which pilot should be sent on which course. He added that according to the current working agreement pilots and engineers enjoy free business class travel and even their families enjoy unlimited travel.

By Friday the PIA management had summoned a meeting with all member associations, but interestingly PALPA was left out.

PALPA claims it will not budge from the stand it has taken, the airline has requested “pilots to put country’s interest first” and the Special Assistant to the PM on Aviation says hard decisions need to be taken. In the standoff between PALPA and PIA the ultimate losers are the passengers who have paid good money but are left hanging in limbo.