Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the nation’s ailing flagship carrier, faced a severe setback recently when it was forced to cancel 48 flights, both domestic and international, due to a crippling fuel shortage. This crisis has cast a shadow of uncertainty over the already struggling airline’s future.
A spokesperson for PIA, in a conversation with The Dawn, a prominent Pakistani news outlet, explained that the flight cancellations were the result of a limited fuel supply and operational challenges. Some flights were rescheduled to mitigate the impact of the shortage.
Among the canceled flights, 13 were domestic routes, while 11 were international, all due to the unavailability of fuel. Additionally, twelve other flights experienced delays.
PIA took swift action to accommodate affected passengers, transferring them to alternative flights. The airline advised all passengers to check their flight status by contacting PIA’s customer care, visiting PIA offices, or reaching out to their travel agents before heading to the airport.
To compound matters, on the same day, PIA had to cancel more than a dozen flights, including 16 international and eight domestic flights, with additional delays expected.
The Root of the Fuel Shortage: The fuel shortage that hit PIA was a direct result of Pakistan State Oil (PSO), a state-owned entity, suspending its fuel supply to the airline due to unpaid dues. This predicament adds to PIA’s already fragile financial condition, which has pushed the airline toward privatization as it grapples with mounting debts.
Despite PIA’s request, the Pakistani government has denied providing Rs 23 billion in financial support for operational expenses, creating further uncertainty regarding the airline’s future.
PIA requires a substantial daily sum of Rs 100 million to secure fuel from PSO. With PSO’s insistence on advance cash payments only, PIA is unable to meet this requirement, potentially leading to more flight cancellations in the future.
This crisis unfolds against the backdrop of Pakistan grappling with one of the worst economic crises in its history, accompanied by political instability and skyrocketing inflation, currently at 21.3 percent.
The Pakistani rupee has depreciated significantly against the US dollar over the past year, with foreign exchange reserves at critically low levels, standing at approximately $10 billion.
Fuel Prices Surge: In September, Pakistan witnessed a historic milestone as petrol and diesel prices crossed the Rs-300 mark for the first time. The interim government, led by Prime Minister Anwaarul Haq Kakar, increased petrol and high-speed diesel (HSD) prices, raising petrol to Rs 305.36 and HSD to Rs 311.84.
The nation also saw widespread protests against soaring electricity bills, with demonstrations in various cities and regions, including Multan, Lahore, Karachi, and Pakistan-Occupied Kashmir (POK). Demonstrators expressed their frustration by burning their bills and confronting officials from power distribution companies.
Amidst these challenges, Pakistan has witnessed a record number of over 800,000 individuals leaving the country within the first half of the year, including a significant number of highly trained professionals. This exodus points to a growing brain drain from the nation, which grapples with a crumbling economy and the specter of Islamic fundamentalism.