ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif will leave for a three-day visit to Bosnia on Tuesday in a Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 777 aircraft, putting the cash-strapped national flag carrier under additional financial burden.
Since the PIA aircraft, which carries around 400 passengers, will remain under the use of the prime minister for three days, it will not only affect the airline’s flight schedule but also cause millions of rupees of losses to the national exchequer.
Interestingly, the prime minister is engaging the PIA plane at a time when 15 aircraft of the national airline, including A-20s, Boeing 777s and nine ATRs (Avions de Transport Régional), have already been grounded on technical grounds.
The ART aircraft were grounded soon after the plane crash near Havelian on Dec 7 that claimed the lives of all 47 people on board.
After the allocation of Boeing 777 aircraft for the prime minister’s visit, PIA will be left with 20 planes. Boeing 777 is a big aircraft which is usually operated for different destinations in European countries.
Prime Minister Sharif usually uses PIA aircraft for his official visits, but at present the national flag carrier is going through its worst crisis because of sudden exclusion of nine ATR planes from its fleet.
The prime minister’s spokesman, Mohammad Salah, told Dawn that Mr Sharif would leave for Bosnia on Tuesday (Dec 20) and return on Thursday (Dec 22). Asked about the number of people accompanying the prime minister, he said he was not aware of it.
He also expressed his ignorance about the engagements of PM Sharif during his stay in Bosnia. “The Foreign Office is the best forum to provide such details,” he added.
In reply to a question about the PIA aircraft to be used by the prime minister, he said the PM’s press secretary, Mohiuddin Wani, was the appropriate person to talk on the matter.
However, despite several attempts, Mr Wani could not be contacted.
A PIA spokesman said the aircraft had been given to the Prime Minister’s Office through the FO. “The Foreign Office has requisitioned Boeing 777 aircraft for two days,” he said, claiming that the FO always paid to PIA whenever the latter engaged its aircraft for any official use.
He admitted that PIA had been facing the worst crisis because 10 ATRs and five other aircraft were not operational. “The organisation has been suffering millions of rupees of losses since ATR planes were excluded from its fleet.”
The spokesman said the ATR aircraft were being used for both local and international routes. Among the international routes were Muscat, Sharjah and Kabul. Among the local routes were Gwadar, Turbat, Panjgur, Moenjo Daro, Zhob, Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Chitral and Gilgit. He said the national flag carrier had been operating 11 ATRs before the Dec 7 plane crash.
He said that one of the grounded aircraft had been refurbished and it made its first flight on Sunday from Islamabad to Multan and back.