A legacy of resilience

PIA’s history as a national institution is the key to its future

A legacy of resilience


n the realm of aviation, few names resonate like Pakistan International Airlines. For over 75 years, the PIA has been more than just an airline; it has been a symbol of resilience, service and unwavering commitment to the people of Pakistan. Hence, in the face of recent challenges, negative publicity and uncertainty, it is crucial to reflect upon the airline’s enduring legacy and the indispensable role it has played in the nation’s history as well as what lies ahead.

The essence of the PIA is Pakistani. Its history reminds people of another era; of rampant industrialisation and a high economic growth rate. Those were times when some analysts expected Pakistan to overtake world’s leading economies.

The PIA acted its part as a global outreach platform for Pakistan’s foreign policy goals. It connected the east and the west; the communists and the capitalists. In times of peace as well as turmoil, the airline was a beacon of national pride. It carried the dreams and aspirations of generations, fostering connections and promoting a sense of unity among the diverse people of Pakistan.

The distinctive green, gold and white livery of PIA planes not only adorned the skies but has also become ingrained in the collective memory of the people. The airline has been a witness to the nation’s triumphs and tribulations; a reliable companion in times of joy and a steady support in times of adversity.

One can look back at the numerous crises that the nation has faced and recall that the PIA consistently rose to the occasion. Whether it was providing humanitarian aid during natural disasters or facilitating the repatriation of Pakistani citizens stranded abroad, the airline has always been reliable.

It is said that “people will forget what you said and people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” The PIA has left an indelible mark on the hearts of millions. No matter what the future holds, the emotional bond between the people and the airline, will endure for generations.

What went wrong is a question that has plagued the minds of many, from intellectuals to economists to aviation analysts. There is no one reply to it. Nor are there right and wrong options to choose from. Over-staffing, political meddling and repressive managements have all been blamed. It has been said that the PIA was too slow to adapt to modern times.

While all these factors might have contributed another major factor is often overlooked: the economic conditions of the country. The factors that affected economic growth were also going to wear the airline down. Airlines are a product and drivers of the economies they are associated with. Progressive economies have dynamic and successful airlines and vice versa.

The PIA has faced its fair share of challenges, from foreign exchange shortages to liquidity crunch as a consequence of overwhelming debt burden, to country’s negative credit rating causing aircraft and engine lessors to panic. All these factors affected the operations and that led to a surge in negative publicity. It is important to recognise that every entity encounters dark phases. It is during these moments that resilience becomes the true measure of character.

In the words of Helen Keller, “Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experience of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.” PIA’s current challenges are an opportunity for growth and transformation, a chance to emerge stronger and more capable.

The recent negative hype surrounding the PIA, especially during the recent fuel crisis, was disheartening, but it does not define it. It was a temporary setback. As Winston Churchill once said, “Success is not final, failure is not always fatal. It is the courage to continue that counts.”

At PIA, we affirm our resolve that our journey is far from over. The courage to persevere will define our future success. Drastic efforts may already be under way to rekindle the spirit of service that has been our hallmark for more than seven decades. As Aristotle said, “it is during our darkest moments that we must focus to see the light.”

Change is a constant in the ever-evolving landscape of the aviation industry. The recent decision to privatise the PIA has started discussions about the future of this iconic institution. The move may be a strategic business decision. It is essential meanwhile to acknowledge the profound emotional connection that generations of Pakistanis have shared with the PIA. Thus, it is only natural for nostalgia to sweep over those who grew up with PIA as a constant presence in their lives. The memories or family reunions and the sense of pride when spotting the PIA’s flag tail at international airports are deeply embedded in the hearts of many.

From a business standpoint, privatisation is often seen as a strategic move to enhance efficiency, improve services and ensure financial sustainability. Privatisation can bring in fresh capital, innovative management practices and increased competitiveness, all of which are essential in the dynamic and fiercely competitive aviation industry. Hence, it was PIA’s management that showed its readiness and resolve to work towards this goal, to preserve the PIA brand.

As PIA plans to transition, there is an opportunity to conserve and celebrate its rich legacy. No matter who the new managers of the PIA might be, they will recognise the value of the brand for the people of Pakistan and ensure that the essence of PIA is not lost.

The challenge will be to ensure that the transition, while necessary, is conducted with sensitivity to the emotional fabric that defines the airline. PIA’s brand legacy will continue to live on in the hearts of those who have experienced the joy and pride of flying with Pakistan International Airlines, a cherished symbol of national identity and resilience.

The writer is the official spokesperson for Pakistan International Airlines

A legacy of resilience