Wednesday April 17, 2024

What ails Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority

By Tariq Abul Hasan
December 09, 2020
The logo of Civil Aviation Authority.

KARACHI: The freakest example of oxymoron can vividly be seen in the persistently declining performance graph of Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) which is inversely related to its ever rising graph of profitability. It is indeed a paradox as profits are commensurate with higher performance.

After the establishment of CAA as an autonomous entity on December 7, 1982, Pakistan had achieved a world-class position due to its excellent professional performance. But now after 28 years, this giant organization of 10,000 employees is at the cusp of its bifurcation into smaller units or foiled bids of outsourcing of its major and lucrative airports in a frenzy to buttress its declining performance.

It didn’t happen overnight. It was stubbornly mismanaged from its top officers to its lowest level staffers. Equally it is the outcome of the compromises made by the decision makers in aviation ministry and air headquarters. They remained satisfied with its huge profits and were never concerned over its falling performance.

At a time when all major national institutions are mired in losses and debts, the CAA is still earning more than Rs180 billion annually and its net profit is about Rs 36 billion annually. Not to be surprised, its major chunk of net profit is from fixed charges of overflying which is the output of its small branch of air traffic control. While rest of the huge branches are massively overstaffed with inefficient staff owing to undue political meddling and in compliance with the unavoidable decree to regularise 4,500 daily wagers.

Despite adversities, it is still one of the most profitable companies in the country today but unfortunately in the worst period of its history related to its undivided survival and growth. It is unable to firmly stand on its own legs due to ad-hocism, contracts and deputations. After nearly three decades of its establishment, it has now even subjected to international sanctions as well.

Due to the ongoing tug-of-war over the Establishment’s pursuits of takeover of the CAA, key positions in the Authority are either vacant or blue-eyed officers are posted on deputation, additional/acting charge basis or on contract.

The post of Director General of CAA remained vacant for three years. Finally one Khaqan Murtaza, Principal Secretary to Governor Sindh and Grade 21 officer was appointed as Director General last week on a court order but due to lack of required qualifications and experience his appointment was challenged in Islamabad High Court.

The most important Regulatory Branch assigned to regulate civil aviation activities and issue licenses to pilots, engineers and aviation personnel is without a qualified head for two years. It is being headed by a mechanical engineer with an additional charge of deputy director general andhas no prior regulatory experience.

The post of Deputy Director General of CNS was similarly lying vacant for two years, the acting charge of the vacant post of Director Operations is also being held by a junior officer and the most important post of Director Air Transport is being looked after by an officer with no relevant experience. Similarly, other junior officers have additional charge of the most important posts like Director Safety, Quality and Management Services SQMS, Director CNS, Director Training Institute CATAI and Director HR.

The Directorate of Flight Standards is mostly headed by the pilots from PIA and other airlines because CAA does not have the pilots of required calibre. The additional charge of the CAA Board of Directors is lying with an engineer, because the full-fledged board secretary is under suspension for opposing changes to the rules in the Services Regulation.

The biggest irony is that since its inception in 1982, no officer of the CAA was ever appointed as director general and all DGs were either posted on deputation from the Pakistan Air Force or from the civil services.

Consequently, the senior most officers of the CAA, who have vast experience in commercial and civil aviation and have higher educational qualifications, retire on the path of development. In short, CAA is being run on the basis of deputation, additional charge and ad hoc appointments on almost all important posts including its director general.

According to experts international organisations like the International Civil Aviation Organization (ICAO), European Union Safety Agency (EASA) and the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) have downgraded CAA and do not allow Pakistani airlines to operate in Europe and the United States. The reasons for the ban are that internally CAA is not being allowed to operate in accordance with international standards of civil aviation.