PIA (pakistan international airlines)

Pakistan International Airlines Corporation, commonly known as PIA is the flag carrier airline of Pakistan.The airline, with its head office on the grounds of Jinnah International Airport in Karachi, is the 31st largest airline in Asia, operating scheduled services to 23 domestic destinations and 36 international destinations in 25 countries across Asia, Europe and North America. Its main bases are Karachi, Lahore and Islamabad/Rawalpindi.

The airline’s secondary bases include Peshawar, Faisalabad, Quetta, Sialkot and Multan, from which it connects the metropolitan cities with the main bases, the Middle East and the Far East. The airline is owned by the Government of Pakistan (87%) and other shareholders (13%). It employed 18,043 people as of May 2008.

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‘Pakistan International Airlines’, or ‘PIA’ for short, can trace its beginnings to the days when Pakistan was not an independent state. In 1946 Muhammed Ali Jinnah realised the need for an airline network for the forming country and called upon the help of an industrialist Mirza Ahmad Ispahani to develop a flag carrier for the nation. Meanwhile, an airline called ‘Orient Airways’, registered in Calcutta, was formed on 23 October 1946. In February 1947, the airline brought three DC-3 airplanes from a company in Texas, and in May of that year the airline was granted a licence to fly. Services were started in June from Kolkata to Sittwe and Yangon. This was the first post-war airline flight by a South Asian registered airline company. Two months after this service began, Pakistan was formed. Orient Airways began relief flights to the new nation and, soon after, it moved its operations to Karachi, where it began flights to Dhaka on 7 June 1954. In addition, the first two domestic routes in Pakistan were established, from Karachi to Lahore to Peshawar, and from Karachi to Quetta to Lahore.

A Convair CV-240 in the 1950s at Karachi airport

The Government of Pakistan, realizing the operation was failing economically, proposed that Orient Airways merge into a new national airline. On 11 March 1955, Orient Airways merged with the government’s proposed airline, becoming ‘Pakistan International Airlines Corporation’. During the same year the airline opened its first international service, from Karachi to London Heathrow Airport via Cairo International Airport and Leonardo da Vinci Airport in Fiumicino, Italy, using the Lockheed L-1049C Super Constellation. The DC-3s continued operating the domestic services in Pakistan. In May 1956, PIA ordered two Super Lockheed Constellations and five Vickers Viscount 815. In 1959, Malik Nur Khan was named Managing Director.

In March 1960, PIA became the first Asian airline to use jet aircraft when Boeing 707 services were introduced. The aircraft were wet leased from Pan American and in 1961 services were begun to John F. Kennedy International Airport in New York City. In 1962, orders were placed for Boeing 720s, Fokker F27s and Sikorsky helicopters. One of PIA’s Boeing 720s broke a world record that year, when it flew from London to Karachi non-stop in 6 hours and 43 minutes during its delivery flight from Seattle, piloted by PIA’s senior Captain Abdullah Baig, a record unbroken to this day. During 1962, services to East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) were proving to be difficult, therefore PIA placed their Sikorsky S-61 helicopters on these routes until 1966 when conditions improved. In 1964 PIA became the first airline from a non-communist country to fly to the People’s Republic of China. As the Indo-Pakistani War of 1965 broke out, PIA helped the Pakistani forces with logistics and transport. In 1966, the Viscounts were phased out, substituted by four Tridents. However, as growth surpassed the need for these aircraft, they were later sold to Civil Aviation Administration of China.

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The 1970s saw the resumption of transatlantic flights and new destinations. It once again aided the Pakistan Army by transporting soldiers to East Pakistan in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971and lost a couple of its aircraft to Indian Air Force fighters. In 1972 it applied to operate to Libya and an agreement was signed with Yugoslav airline JAT. In 1973, McDonnell Douglas DC-10s arrived and were used by the airline before they were replaced by Boeing 707-300s. In 1974 air freight services started, as well as a cargo service to New York City under the name, ‘Pakistan International Cargo’. In 1975, PIA introduced new uniforms for air hostesses. These uniforms were chosen through an open competition, the winning entry was a design by Sir Hardy Amies who was designer to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II.

In 1976, leased Boeing 747-200Bs came into service. In 1979, the airline bought their first Boeing 747-200BM aircraft. Also in 1978 the airline provided help to Somali Airlines, Air Malta and Yemenia and established a hotel management service in the United Arab Emirates. PIA leased two of its own Boeing 720s to Air Malta during the 70s.

The Fokker F27 was once the backbone of PIA’s northern area flights in the 1990s

The 1980s began with the opening of a cargo centre in Karachi and the delivery of a new aircraft, Airbus A300B4-203. In 1981, a duty-free sales service was inaugurated. During 1982, the first C and D checks were carried out on the fleet in Karachi. In 1984, domestic night coach fare service was introduced to offer lower prices for low-income passengers. In 1985 the PIA Planetarium tourist attraction was inaugurated in Karachi and later in Lahore. In the same year, five Boeing 737-300s joined the fleet making PIA the first Asian operator of such a type. Two former PIA Boeing 720Bs now form part of the Planetarium’s exhibition at Karachi and Lahore. In late 1987 and early 1988, flights were introduced to Malé and to Toronto Pearson International Airport, respectively. In 1989, the first women pilots started their career on passenger airplanes.

During June 1991, PIA received the first of six Airbus A310-300 aircraft on from Airbus Industrie. In 1992, flights started to Tashkent and in 1993, to Zürich, Switzerland. In addition, PIA became a user of the Sabre, Galileo and Amadeus global distribution systems. During 1994, PIA added Jakarta, Fujairah, Baku and Al-Ain to its destinations. Air Safari flights were launched in the same year using Boeing 737–300 aircraft over the Karakoram mountains. In 1995, PIA received a Boeing 747 flight simulation system and a used Air France A300 aircraft was bought. In 1996 the airline leased Tupolev Tu-154 aircraft, and re-opened services to Beirut.

PIA only used the Tupolev Tu-154 for a short time to deal with the demand during the summer of 1996. In 1999, PIA leased five Boeing 747–300 aircraft from Cathay Pacific to replace its aging Boeing 747-200M fleet. The aircraft wore a new livery with a handwork Pashmina tail on white body and large Pakistan titles on the front fuselage. The livery was applied to some of the fleet during the 90s but due to copyright problems the livery was dropped. The Boeing 747-300s remained in the new look but with a plain green tail with PIA titles. The other aircraft in the fleet were repainted in the 1990s livery.

Boeing 747-300 on finals to London Heathrow Airport, England

In July 2002, PIA purchased six Boeing 747-300 aircraft from Cathay Pacific, five of which were already on lease with PIA. The sixth arrived shortly after and PIA operated it mainly on its North American and European routes. In October 2002, after a period of ten years without any new order, the airline purchased eight Boeing 777 aircraft from The Boeing Company, including three 777-200ER (Extended Range), two 777-200LR (Longer Range) and three 777-300ER versions. PIA was the launch customer that revived the Boeing 777-200LR project that, until then, only had three orders by EVA Air. The first two Boeing 777-200LR produced were test aircraft used by Boeing, before they were delivered to PIA. One of these Boeing 777-200LR was displayed at the Paris Airshow during 2005.

During 2004, PIA took delivery of its first Boeing 777-200ER aircraft in January. On delivery of the first three Boeing 777-200ERs the airline introduced a new aircraft livery, which was later applied to the majority of the fleet. PIA also acquired six half life Airbus A310-300/ET from the Airbus management on a ten year lease agreement. On 3 November 2005 PIA signed an agreement with the aircraft manufacturer, ATR to purchase seven ATR42-500. The aircraft were purchased to replace the aging F-27 aircraft. The seven ATR aircraft were delivered between 2006 and 2007. On 6 December 2005, PIA leased an additional new Boeing 777-200ER from the International Lease Finance Corporation (ILFC). The aircraft had the same specifications as the previous Boeing 777-200ER that PIA operated. The aircraft was delivered in January 2007 on ten year lease to the airline.

On 25 February 2006 Boeing delivered its first 777-200LR Worldliner to PIA, where it flew from Everett to Islamabad via Manchester, England. PIA started non-stop flights from Toronto to Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore from 3 March 2006 taking advantage of Boeing 777-200LR’s long range capability. PIA planned non-stop flights to New York City and other US cities with sizable Pakistani population centres, but was not given permission due to security reasons. On 31 May 2006, PIA took delivery of its first ATR aircraft from Toulouse, France. On 23 December 2006, PIA took delivery of its first Boeing 777-300ER. After the arrival of a second ATR 42–500, PIA has ceased using military Lockheed C-130 Hercules for passenger services in the north of Pakistan. The military planes were being used after the Fokker F27 fleet was grounded due to a fatal crash in July 2006.

A pair of Boeing 747s stored at the newly constructed Sialkot International Airport in 2008

On 5 March 2007, the European Commission, following an on-site visit, banned all but eight planes of PIA’s 44-plane fleet from flying to Europe citing safety concerns. PIA was included in the List of air carriers banned in the European Union.The remaining eight, namely the fleet of Boeing 777s, has been exempted from the ban.PIA claims that this is discriminatory and the bans are not justifiable. On 26 March 2007, Tariq Saeed Kirmani resigned after severe pressure from higher authorities because of the EU ban. Zafar Khan was appointed as the new chairman of Pakistan International Airlines. A team from the European Union visited Karachi in July 2007, to check the condition of the planes and review the ban. On 5 July 2007, the EU lifted the restriction on 11 aircraft that PIA could fly into Europe, of which five were Boeing 747-300s and six Airbus A310-300s. On 29 November 2007, The EU completely lifted the ban on PIA. In the same year, PIA signed a lease deal for seven new Airbus A320-200 from Kuwait based leasing company ALAFCO, the factory built aircraft were to be delivered between 2009 and 2010, however the deal however was cancelled in 2008.

During April 2009, the management decided to launch a long-term ‘Business Plan of PIA’ including purchase of new aircraft with details of the plan being finalised.

Corporate Management Structure

Pakistan International Airlines Corporation (PIAC) is majority owned by the Government of Pakistan (87%) while the remainder (13%) by private shareholders. The airline falls under the direction of the Ministry of Defence chaired by its current chairman, Ahmad Mukhtar. The airline is managed by managing director, Captain Aijaz Haroon as well as the Board of Directors. The Board consists of nine independent non-executive members and has four sub-committees, being an Audit Committee, Brand and Advertising Committee, Finance Committee and Human Resource Committee each with its own charter and chairman. The MD leads the executive management of staff who control the running of the airline. The airline’s main headquarters are located in Karachi whilst smaller sub head offices are located in several cities within Pakistan.

PIA offices in Lahore

In the late 1990s, the Government of Pakistan considered selling the airline to the private sector due to the persistent losses suffered by the airline. The Government announced the privatisation plans but they were never implemented. Several steps towards outsourcing of non-core business have been initiated. Catering units (starting with Karachi Flight Kitchen), ground handling (starting with ramp services) and engineering, are to be gradually carved out of the airline and operated as independent companies. During 1997, Pakistan called in a team from International Finance (IFC), the consulting arm of the World Bank, to advise on restructuring and privatisation of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) however no agreement was reached.The government has many times planned the privatization of the State owned. however as of yet no reasonable agreement or solution has been found. On 18 February 2009 the carrier was dropped from the privatisation list.

Financial performance

The profitability of PIA is published in the 2008 annual report with figures in millions of Pakistani Rupees. The following table gives the key financial results for the end of year period of the financial year. PIA explains that the loss was caused by two factors: the weakening of the Pakistani rupee and the rise in crude oil prices during 2008.


Main article: Pakistan International Airlines destinations
Pakistan      Present destinations      Former destinations
Dubai is a major focus city for the airline with flights to Bahawalpur, Dera Ghazi Khan, Faisalabad, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Quetta and Sialkot

PIA serves 23 domestic destinations and 36 international destinations in 25 countries across Asia, Europe, North America as of September 2009 from its home bases of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar.

Codeshare agreements

PIA has code share agreements with the following four carriers as of August 2009:

  • Aerosvit Airlines
  • China Southern Airlines
  • Saudi Arabian Airlines [from 3 May]
  • Thai Airways International
  • Turkish Airlines


PIA operate a three class configuration on its domestic routes which include Business Plus, Economy Plus+ and Economy. However on their international flights a two class configuration, Business Plus and Economy, has remained popular. According to the Annual Report 2007, PIA recorded a seat factor of 69%, a percentage drop from 2006.PIA Business Plus passengers are offered flat bed seats on all Boeing 777 as well as select Airbus A310 aircraft.

Newspapers and magazines

The PIA in-flight magazine, Humsafar (Urdu for “travel companion”), is provided to all passengers on all international and domestic flights. Humsafar was introduced on PIA flights in 1980 and is printed and published in-house on a bi-monthly basis. General Urdu and English newspapers and magazines are available to all Business Plus and Economy Plus class passengers on PIA flights. Free newspapers are provided to all Economy class passengers.

Frequent Flyer Program

PIA Awards Plus+ is the frequent flyer programme. The programme allows passengers to get free tickets, excess baggage vouchers, cabin upgrades, and a variety of rewards, special deals, and discounts with programme participants. Awards Plus+ has three tiers of membership – Emerald, Sapphire and Diamond. Awards Plus+ miles can be earned by flying PIA and by using the products and services of PIA’s partners.


PIA Catering are the main suppliers of meals for the airline. They can produce 15,000 passenger meals each day. However since 2006, the management control of the flight kitchens has been given to Singapore Air Terminal Services (SATS). PIA Catering also provide special meals to allow for passengers’ dietary and religious needs.

Cargo operations

PIA operates a cargo delivery system within Pakistan. During the early 1970s, PIA operated a service called “Air Express” that delivered documents and parcels from one airport to another. Pakistan International Cargo was started in 1974 using two Boeing 707-320C, with services to the Middle East and Europe. The operations ended in the late 1990s when both aircraft were grounded. PIA Cargo transports goods across Pakistan as well as to international destinations. These include meat and vegetables, textiles, paper products and laboratory equipment.

In 2003 PIA launched “‘PIA Speedex'”, a courier service in Karachi, Lahore, and Rawalpindi/Islamabad; expanding within a year to 12 cities. Today, the airline offers over 70 locations within Pakistan, with shipments collected and delivered from customers’ homes. From 2004 to September 2007, PIA Cargo operated two Airbus A300 Freighter aircraft chartered through MNG Airlines to Haan and Luton; initially these also operated to Amsterdam, Basel and Cologne.

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