x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Pakistan International Airlines grounds all flights for second day

With employees on strike since Tuesday, with government efforts failing to resolve their concerns over cutting lucrative routes to avoid bankruptcy.

KARACHI // Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) grounded all flights on Friday for a second consecutive day with government efforts to mediate an end to industrial action so far failing to resolve the dispute.

Staff have been on picket lines since Tuesday, resulting in the cancellation of around 250 flights, the stranding of 45,000 passengers and causing losses of around $19 million for the airline, which is on the brink of bankruptcy.

Employees are furious at management plans to farm out lucrative European and US routes to Turkish Airlines in order to avert bankruptcy. They want the plan scrapped and the managing director sacked.

Two rounds of crisis talks between union leaders and government representatives have ended without any breakthrough.

PIA says at least 250 flights have been cancelled since the strike began on Tuesday, including to Britain, the Middle East, Europe and Asia.

"Like yesterday, we have total shutdown today. We had to cancel about 120 flights on Thursday and as many today," PIA spokesman Mashhood Tajwar told AFP.

Of the 250 cancelled flights, 200 were domestic and 50 international.

The airline provides the only direct service from Pakistan to Britain, Europe and North America.

Suhail Baluch, president of the Pakistan Airlines Pilots Association, says the strike will continue until the codeshare agreement is abandoned, managing director Aijaz Haroon sacked and all suspended employees reinstated.

Further talks are expected between union leaders and outgoing interior minister Rehman Malik, expected to be re-confirmed in a new cabinet reshuffle likely to be announced later Friday.

"We want to resolve the issue immediately from the bottom of our heart. We realise the strike has affected tens of thousands of passengers and we want the government to hold talks with us as soon as possible," Baluch told AFP.

The PIA spokesman said eight planes were stranded abroad and the airline's other 32 were grounded at different airports around the vast country, where air travel is considered relatively quick and cheap.

"More than 300 Pakistanis are stranded in India with visas about to expire but we cannot carry them back home," he said.

Arch nuclear rivals India and Pakistan on Thursday announced the resumption of peace talks suspended more than two years ago after Islamist gunmen killed 166 people in Mumbai in attacks that India blamed on Pakistani militants.

"Overstaying illegally may put these Pakistanis in danger of being punished by the Indian law," said Tajwar.