Thursday, 19 June 2014

Shaheen On The Rocks

He was seated behind me in the Business Class of PIA’s Boeing 777. Probably finding the leg-space insufficient, he took off his shoes and placed both the feet on the rear of my seat. As my own seat shook several times, I irritatingly asked the stewardess who that bare-footed style icon was. “Sir, he’s Mr Khalid Shehbai, the CEO of Shaheen Airlines”, she replied.

It was quite enough to see Mr Shehbai from a distance; I decided to maintain the mileage and wondered why he was not flying his own airlines. The service trollies came and went but he took no food or drinks. With a paper napkin placed over his face he remained busy throughout the flight reading a book, quite oblivious of others around him.

Many decades ago Allama Muhammad Iqbal wrote: “Nahi tera nasheman qasar-e-sultani kay gumbad par; Tu shaheen hai basaira kar paharon ki chaton par”. As a Muslim poet he wished to turn all his wingless co-religionists into independent eagles by taunting them thus: “Not on the dome of the royal palace is your nest. You’re an eagle, live atop the mountain’s rocks.”

Everyone heard Iqbal's poetry; after all he was a British knight. But times have changed and today many in this ‘land of the pure’ have again become lame ducks so in love with the dome of the White House in Washington.

For now we have a shaheen (eagle) of another variety—a Boeing 737 of the Shaheen Airlines, to be precise—whose engines did not transport it to Iqbalian heights but rather caused rocks to fall upon its metal body at Sialkot international airport. Whenever Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) suffers an accident or incident, the mass media proudly defames the national flag carrier. Why, you ask? Because there was a time when journalists got free tickets from PIA’s public relations department; now apparently they do not, hence the hostility.

Other airlines that operate in Pakistan appear to have an arrangement with an 'authority' that gives them preferential treatment when it comes to landing, taking off and parking. Of course the national flag carrier, PIA, invariably queues behind others to suffer delays and additional fuel expenses. The examples are too numerous to quote here but something sinister is going on against PIA.

Every news channel and publication boldly mentions PIA’s name (qaumi airlines) in senseless ‘breaking news’ strips but almost never names other airlines. For others they always use the vague descriptive ‘private airlines’ (nijji airlines). Something is very wrong with the media because it loves to clobber PIA which is a government-owned corporation.

The TV channels regularly save the private and foreign airlines all the embarrassment; hence the picture always appears bleak whenever PIA is mentioned. A case in point: despite the passage of over ten days, the mass media has not reported Shaheen Airlines’ incident at Sialkot airport. This is what happened.

The Shaheen Airlines Boeing 737 shown in the accompanying pictures required its engine to be changed. On 6 June 2014, a mandatory engine run-up was carried out after obtaining permission from the control tower. Instead of conducting the test over a properly paved asphalt surface, the aircraft engineers opened up take-off power right on the tarmac area.

Sialkot’s tarmac, just like Peshawar’s tarmac, is paved with tiles; an odd replacement for asphalt which is traditionally used for the purpose. It is said that an airlines from the U.A.E paid for the work at Peshawar. It is possible that the same or a similar foreign operator paid for the Sialkot job too. The industrious citizens of Sialkot built this airport without the government’s assistance; it is possible they had a sponsor cough up cash to pave the tarmac with ordinary cement tiles.

PIA is now walking on one leg because she has never fought back aggressively to regain lost revenues. Thanks to the bald brilliance of the Open Sky Policy of a thrice-elected Prime Minister, PIA is now being robbed in broad daylight at a much faster pace. Millions of tons of cargo and thousands of passengers are stolen from under PIA’s nose all because those who control the airlines refuse to equip expand the dwindling aircraft fleet.

And why will PIA not buy more planes? Because the kickbacks are bitterly fought over at various levels while dictations are accepted from foreign white masters who always push their dark commercial agendas. Who will dare to favour European Airbus airplanes when American-made Boeings have so much political and military clout behind them?

The gentlemen handling this Shaheen Boeing 737 should have known better but they did not. Opening up take-off power on jet engines caused not only damage to the aircraft, it made a fine mess of the tarmac’s surface. Those who witnessed the incident said it first felt like an earthquake, a dust-storm appeared from behind the engines, and this was followed by a wave of flying tiles that rained upon the aircraft’s surfaces.

I need not say more; the matter is under investigation. Or has it been air-marshalled into official silence?

©Tahir Gul Hasan 2014
Photos 1 through 9 were shot by the author, the rest (without the watermark) came from an anonymous source.