KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is aiming to book a profit during its next Hajj operation, breaking away from past experience ending up with a loss despite running hundreds of flights and transporting thousands of passengers it ended up with a loss.
“Thankfully the government realised this year that a raise in airfare was needed to meet the cost of fuel and rupee’s depreciation,” said Managing Director PIA Muhammad Junaid Yunus, at a press conference.
“This year, we are looking at not just achieving a break-even point but going a little bit further,” he said, adding that the national-flag carrier might be able to book a 5% operational profit, but cautioned that he “can’t give the exact number because a lot of factors are involved and the outcome could be different.”
PIA will transport 70,024 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia in 160 flights during the pre-Hajj operations which start on September 9 and end on October 19.
Hajj flights will take off from Karachi and Quetta in the southern region, and from Lahore, Sialkot, Multan, Islamabad and Peshawar in the northern region.
Contrary to general perception that airlines do roaring business during Hajj, PIA officials say the carrier spends excessively to make the journey comfortable despite minimal revenue per seat. In almost every case, the flight that takes Pakistani pilgrims to Saudi Arabia comes back empty.
Yunus said that PIA incurred a loss on account of the Hajj flights last year because the government allowed only a Rs1,000 increase in airfare. “This time, it has been raised by Rs10,000 so airfare in southern region is Rs87,500, while airfare in northern cities is Rs97,500.”
The number of pilgrims travelling via PIA in 2013 has come down by 20% over last year after Saudi authorities decreased the quota of pilgrims, he said. “Consequently, we’ll be flying 46,500 people under the government scheme with 23,345 pilgrims using private Hajj operators,” said Yunus. Last year, the airline flew over 80,000 pilgrims.
Every year, the Saudi government allocates quotas and this year, a little over 151,600 Pakistanis will take Islam’s most revered journey.
Under an arrangement between Islamabad and Riyadh, half of the Pakistani pilgrims are flown by PIA and other domestic carriers like Shaheen Air while the other half are catered to by Saudi Airlines.
Yunus said that this year private airline Air Blue refused to become part of the operations. “We must realise that this is national obligation more than a commercial operation for us.”
PIA will eventually carry more than 70,000 pilgrims as it is gearing to serve passengers from Myanmar and two African states.
The 160 flights to Saudi Arabia will be operated on two Boeing-747s and as many B-777 aircrafts, which have a seating capacity of 503 and 329 passengers respectively. Two additional aircraft of the same make will be on standby to deal with any eventuality. The MD also made it clear that PIA will not be leasing aircraft for Hajj operations this year but will be using aircraft from its own fleet.
Saudi aviation authorities impose penalties on airlines which miss flight schedules and PIA has decided to avoid that.
PIA has asked intending pilgrims to go through the guidelines carefully especially noting the new restriction on carrying more than five litres of Zamzam.
PIA’s post Hajj operation will run between October 19 and November 18 2013.
It was during the press conference on Hajj operation that the issue of constant technical failure of PIA aircraft was brought up by some journalists. Visibly distraught, Junaid Yunus said PIA engineers should be appreciated for keeping such an old fleet in the air.
“There will always be technical failures when you are operating 20-year-old planes. All of our planes are that old except for the ATRs and B-777s. We need to bring down the average age to 5-6 years,” he said.
“And this is where I need your help. Please don’t blame us for flight delays when the weather is not on our side. Airlines around the world face delays but somehow that becomes a big issue here.
“Don’t push us to land when there is a storm. Already new airlines are coming up in Pakistan. This kind of competition can be disastrous. I have avoided it so far, not letting anyone compromise safety. We won’t repeat the two Islamabad tragedies,” he said, referring to deadly crashes of Air Blue and Bhoja Air planes.