Given the presently pathetic state of Indo-Pak relations, any comparison of a bilateral nature would probably be frowned upon on both sides of the border. For people are more than fed up of romantic recollections of the cultural bonds that obtained prior to 1947, and are more alive to the tensions that now divide the subcontinent. Yet there is a commonality, possibly acceptable because it is a negative ~ the mess both countries have made of their national airlines. A key adviser has recently suggested to the senate in Islamabad that the legislature facilitate the shutting down of Pakistan International Airlines in the wake of its incurring sustained losses, so massive that no turn-around seems possible.
Dismay over Air-India may not have sunk to that depth, but the airline is surviving only because of a huge government bail-out, and shows few signs of the professional capacities critical to a revival: suggestions that it be privatised have been frequent. Yet “political” considerations in both countries have come out forcefully against such extreme action ~ without any indication of how commercial efficiency can be restored to the carriers that had once operated in the “black”. The suggestions made to the senate by the Pakistan prime minister’s advisor on aviation, Sardar Mehtab Abbasi, have a very familiar ring ~ Air-India could well be substituted for PIA in both his diagnosis and prognosis. The reaction of the senate has been one of false prestige and sentiment; so too have Indian parliamentarians and ministers looked to band-aid solutions rather than “take the plunge”.
There could well be much commonality to what brought PIA and AI to such dire straits. Political interference and excessive bureaucratic control over the years have ejected professional management from the cockpit. In both countries has the line been taken that a “clean up” at the top will have a magical effect. But Mr Abassi confessed that “top quality people do not come to PIA any more”, just as the cream of Indian aviation professionals have migrated to private airlines. And, again AI could substitute PIA in the key piece of advice: “PIA should be run under business models, keeping in view the challenges facing the industry. It cannot be run on recommendations that will limit its flexibility to adopt the best industrial practices”. That observation would have been more than applauded by the legendary JRD Tata, maybe even Ashwani Lohani would nod in agreement.
The mismanagement has had its trickle-down effect: both airlines are heavily over-staffed, their senior employees devoid of discipline, a few even thriving on political patronage. Clearly the term ‘sarkari’ conjures up the same ugly images on both sides of the Radcliffe Line. And this is one drawback that cannot be blamed on the shared colonial legacy.