The woes of Gilgit Baltistan people are not limited to wheat, power, jobs and land, the reckless manner in which Islamabad put their lives in danger by using defective aircraft to operate Pakistan International Airlines flight to Gilgit airport is callous and shocking.
People have for long been complaining about disaster-prone aircraft put in service in the Gilgit sector which often are grounded due to technical faults, prolonging the normal delays at the airports.
The airport authorities have often grounded several flights after frequent breakdowns. At least two aircraft in the sector had crashed into hilly areas claiming several lives.
PIA incurred a loss of over Rs10.1398 mn after ATR-42 aircraft skidded off the runway while landing at the Gilgit airport on July 20, 2019. The Auditor General of Pakistan in its 2021-22 report held the PIA responsible for the loss.
In September last, the local Chief Justice Shamim Khan had taken suo moto notice of the complaints and had summoned senior officers from the airlines and airport authority. The officers informed the court that the planes were purchased in 2006 and had only completed half of their flight cycles. The court was unhappy with the response and had asked for a more credible response to the public complaints about extreme danger.
People have quite a few litanies against the PIA flights to and from Gilgit and Skardu. Besides the use of defective planes, another critical complaint is that of exorbitant fares charged from the passengers. The fares were disproportionate to the time, distance and quality of service provided by the airline. The fares exceeded that of International flights from Karachi to Dubai. Such exorbitant charges question PIA’s claims of serving the citizens.
The PIA’s concerns for local residents are reflected in its direct operation from Skardu to Karachi. Instead of offering a true direct flight, the airline subjects passengers to the inconvenience of a connecting flight through Islamabad, prolonging the travel time to a staggering 9 hours, time taken to reach Turkey. The Justice of Supreme Appellate Court Sardar Muhammad Shamim Khan has now asked PIA to submit a report on the operational life of the planes on the route and the reasons behind frequent breakdowns.