Aviation experts say there’s no quick fix as the restructuring will require time, resources and dedication. Image Credit: Mohammed Firaas (Supplied to Gulf News)

Islamabad: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has announced plans to further cut its workforce as part of reforms to make the airline’s operations efficient and return to profitability.

PIA’s CEO Arshad Malik said the reform process would continue as it had helped in significantly bringing down the employee per aircraft ratio to 260 from 550 in 2017. Malik expressed hope that the arrival of new aircraft in the PIA fleet in 2022 would further bring the ratio down to 220, adding that the world’s best airlines maintained their staff strength per plane between 200 and 250.

Restructuring to help save Rs8 billion

The reforms would help PIA “save around Rs8 billion ($45.2 million, Dh166 million) annually with the reduction of its staff strength”, the CEO said, adding that the key elements of the restructuring process were enforcing discipline and improving services to bring the airline at par with international standards.

PIA reported a loss of Rs42.3 billion during January-September 2021 compared to a Rs39.9 billion loss in the year-ago period, according to its 2021 third-quarter report.

The airline has been continually incurring losses and facing a decline due to decades of “politicisation, mismanagement, cronyism, corruption practices”.

Aviation experts say there’s no quick fix as the restructuring will require time, resources and dedication.

“PIA is not going to be profitable in its current state with the challenges, bureaucratic interference and the unions. It needs an organisational transformation. PIA requires a tailored and lean approach matched with efficient services, reduced cost, maximised human talent and efficiency and improved quality. That is the only way forward,” international aviation analyst Fahad Ibne Masood told Gulf News.

Cutting down staff-per-aircraft ratio

In 2021, PIA announced plans to reduce the workforce to up to 7,500 regular employees and replace some of its fleet. Under the new reforms, around 1,900 PIA employees opted for a voluntary separation scheme, 837 were terminated over dubious degrees, 1,000 ghost employees were removed from the payroll and 1,100 on disciplinary grounds.

Until recently, PIA had 14,000 employees and a fleet of only 30 aircraft - one of the highest staff per aircraft ratio of over 466. In comparison, Turkish Airlines has 160 employees per aircraft with 373 aircraft in its fleet and 60,000 employees. Emirates, which had a total fleet count of 259 until March 2021 and around 40,801 staff, has 157 employees per aircraft.

Pakistani airlines have been hit hardest by the pandemic and also due to restrictions by European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) over safety concerns. The restrictions were recently withdrawn by UN aviation agency ICAO, signalling the return of Pakistan flights to Europe, the US and UK in February or March this year.