Aurora Magazine

Promoting excellence in advertising

Is PIA salvable?

Updated Oct 30, 2015 02:39pm
Can Pakistan International Airlines make a comeback and again be the darling of air travellers?

It would be very poignant for the veterans at our national airlines to view the Emirates inaugural flight video that is doing the rounds on social media. Like a spent star watching with mixed emotions the first performance of a youngster she gave a break to, PIA can only reflect on what was and lament the fact that the time and the crowds have passed her by.

Read 'Flying high on celebrities'

Our national carrier was the star of the airline industry, giving stellar performances, rarely fluffing her lines. In her heyday, like an actor in her youth with an insight in to what is sellable, PIA knew exactly how to please the crowds, she was the leading lady, the talk of the town. No it wasn’t only branding or advertising; yes, they were amazing, but they were strongly backed up by a service oriented organisation.

Can PIA make a comeback and again be the darling of air travellers? I’m sure that if there is one brand most people in Pakistan would love to see resurrected it would be PIA. We love nostalgia, we remember the 1992 World Cup win and dream of being top of the world again. Similarly, we see those wonderful PIA ads and we fall in love all over again.

Recently, I and other members of the Khalid Alvi Marketing Next Facebook page had an amazing opportunity to interact with a legend in the aviation industry, Richard Bates. Bates, who had been hired to work for PIA by Shaukat Aziz in 2009, has built some of the most popular airline brands, including, Emirates, Etihad and Virgin. Before that he worked for agencies such as FCB, Grey and Saatchi.

So what did he reveal to us? First off he spoke about getting the basics right – no not price, promotion, etc. As he put it: “Let me state very simply, before you even start on marketing an airline, you need to ensure that it fulfils the basic hygiene factors, it must be safe, secure, clean and punctual.”

He highlighted the role of the staff and was impressed that almost all of their staff had never worked for another airline. He emphasised that the top man is key and that for an airline everyone, from the CEO to the janitor, is responsible for service delivery. For PIA to regain its lost glory, it needs to highlight the core values that all Pakistanis share whether in Houston or Vehari.

When asked whether PR could work or whether digital media had changed the scenario for PIA, he was very clear: “The reason Emirates and Singapore Airlines are among the most highly rated global airline products is that they have jealously guarded their product integrity. It may now be as cheap as chips to tell the world about yourself via digital media, but the fact remains that in order to stand out from the crowd, you need a product positioning which is both solid and contemporary.”

Bates placed importance on excellent customer service as well as believing that marketing is not a department, but everything a company does or fails to do. Another area he highlighted was that dead weight (in the form of over-staffing) was a major threat to a resurgent PIA. He spoke about how British Airways under James Hogan went from a staff of 50,000 to 30,000, but all the 30,000 were in his words- “were absolutely convinced that the customer was their ultimate boss.”

"Dead weight (in the form of over-staffing) is a major threat to a resurgent PIA."

— Richard Bates, Former Director Special Projects, PIA.

Bates was probed whether he believe PIA was salvable. To the surprise of many of us, he say he firmly believed the airline could return. The formula according to him? If the will of the staff is mobilised by a visionary leader, to create an airline that is relevant to the travelling needs of all major segments. A PIA offering based on not only nostalgia but something more tangible – service you can rely on, day after day. Now, the people in that kind of company would really be great people to fly with.

Tyrone Tellis is a marketing professional working in Pakistan. tyrone.tellis@gmail.com

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Comments (45) Closed



Hamid shafiq Oct 30, 2015 03:19pm

Day dreaming is a bad habbit

citizen Oct 30, 2015 03:41pm

PIA is not savable..only dissolvable !

Failed Fisherman Oct 30, 2015 03:51pm

You have already answered Mr, "Service Oriented Organisation (aka People)".

Zubair Ahmad Oct 30, 2015 04:04pm

Instead getting rid of staff, Ask each and every member of staff to write down and tell about his /her performance in PIA and give practical suggestions for real improvements.Then Authorities should summarize them and try their level best to implement those suggestions. PIA one of the best name will keep its glory.

Muhammed Ali Oct 30, 2015 04:34pm

Crooks over the years are to blame...leaders who put their family and friends in positions they know nothing about...cronies who are willing to delay the departure of a plane for a "MATE" is anyone surprised PIA is where it is now?They would NOT get away with it in any other country.My 1st flight was on PIA in 1974 but since the early 90s Emirates all the way..

haque khan Oct 30, 2015 04:40pm

Most of the people in the world would never fly PIA because it does not serve booze. First they have to start serving that and then they can top it off with good service and only then there may be a chance...............

M. Malik Oct 30, 2015 04:57pm

Yes, I do believe PIAC can be revived and return to its glorious era of the 70s and 80s, if:

1) Payroll is trimmed, political appointees are fired, and SMEs with proven track record and merits are retained to run a lean and efficient organization;

2) Management is overhauled and best managers and executives with direct air line experience are hired;

3) Old fleet is discarded, and new, fuel-efficient planes are leased or purchased;

4) Review its network and competitiveness internationally;

5) Limit the intrusion of Gulf carriers with unlimited landing rights curtailed to let PIA compete.

6) Branding, staff training, moral and in-flight and ground services are improved to gain customer satisfaction, and repeat business through word of mouth, as well as targeted marketing campaign,

Short of these measures, it would be a futile effort.

PS. I am available for the right price as a Consultant!

Munir Oct 30, 2015 05:03pm

Airline is a very demanding business. On top of that being a parastatal (a government owned and run organisation) add more challenges to the business. It is not workable. Just close it, shut it down and move on. Instead of pumping billions in a white elephant and bleeding monster, create an enabling environment for private sector to get into this business, if they really think that they can make money while running as a national carrier.

Munir Oct 30, 2015 05:07pm

@haque khan , haha, I do not smoke and drink and I will travel an airline that does not allow drinks on its flight and may be even no non-veg, but will that airline be a viable venture, it is nobody's guess. It will be a failure from the word start. But that is not the problem with PIA, airline is a demanding business and it gets more demanding with government's involvement. Just shut PIA down and create enabling environment for private sector to take a plunge, if they do want to!

Ahmed Oct 30, 2015 05:35pm

MUNIR; I totally agree with you. Not serving the Alcohal is not the issue at all. Instead people needs an airline that strive on quality and security that can be achieved by merit only...

Manzoor Oct 30, 2015 06:02pm

Let us be honest ,it is PPP that is responsible for the decay of PIA .It inducted jiyalas into the company built painstakingly by that doyen of Pakistani air, Asghar Khan.

Amir Oct 30, 2015 06:06pm

What does 'salvable' mean ??? The right correct word should be 'salvageable' if I have go the spelling correct!.

Shahzada Ansari Oct 30, 2015 06:06pm

I strongly believe that we have to get of people loyal to other airlines, who will never let PIA come back. An airline is ruling on the world now, at the cost of PIA downfall. We all know this airline and we love it. Just notice the growth of this airline with down fall of PIA, which was at one time pride of world. Surely it can be revived. Just get rid of People League and Muslim League from the union, who are taking turns here also

Muhammed Ali Oct 30, 2015 06:49pm

@haque khan Why should the serve BOOZE??? Its has a wide muslim base mostly Pakistanis , look at its service in Pakistan dreadful...my daughter was delayed for 1 hours last year, do you think anyone at Islamabad cared?? No chance..

Imran Kidwai Oct 30, 2015 06:49pm

Just commenting on your headlines.It is definitely salvable.All it requires is HONESTY all around.Everything will take care of itself.

Akhtar Oct 30, 2015 06:53pm

I flew with PIA recently. The planes are old. The entertainment system did not work. The staff were polite and food was OK.

JUSTICE Oct 30, 2015 07:06pm

As long as Asif Zardari and Nawaz Sharif remain in Pakistan's politic, there is no future for PIA to grow due to huges corruption and political appointees, same thing goes for the Pakistan Railway.

shaikhzada Oct 30, 2015 07:20pm

Strong visionary Leader. that's all PIA needs.

Umair Oct 30, 2015 08:02pm

It hurt me inside to see our country carrier PIA over the years has been going down the hill and it can return back ofcorse it can and I believe it will. It needs new aircrafts like 777, 787-8, 787/9 and a330-300's. It needs to reduce staff big time to run affetive and efficent. It will need strong government support. Not just sell it out or privatise the national carrier. Yes may be for some time privatise it sell it to big brands such as Emirates, Etihad or Qatar just to bring it back on its feet. And yes they need to compete on price as well because it is a bit more on the expensive side that other carriers. I love my country Pakistan and I would love to fly with PIA again.

Muhammad Irfan Oct 30, 2015 09:08pm

Now the Emirates Airline brain child of PIA is celebrating its 30th Anniversary with excellent success where as PIA has lost its dignity during 30 years. Now the fuel prices are supporting Airline business as they are beneficiaries.. This situation may remain 3-5 years and the PIA has opportunity. The turn around can be achieved with the support of Govt. if they stop intervene in the commercial decisions and not to accommodate in- efficient staff. Human recourses are biggest cost.Staff selection based on their competency brings assets instead of liabilities. They should eliminate the waste and keep the good staff on their fleet. Furthermore all concessional fair should be withdrawn, bogus booking or favourable booking should be eliminated so that they can maximise the revenues. All non profitable routs to be diverted towards profitable routs. If such steps are taken they will improve their liquidity and will be less dependable to add additional planes in their fleet .

Zafar Dahir Oct 30, 2015 09:50pm

Huge sums in the shape of liquidity injection as well as tax exemptions by the Govt., delayed n deferred payments to CAA could not make the things go ever since the turn of the century. Plundering of resources n wastage of human expertise, political appointments and placement of non professionals on technical assignments could be cited a few reasons among array of blunders. Incompetent management and government control on its affairs through 1951 Act are the major impedements in becoming a turn around public company. Privatize it, the only solution . But one knows that PIA blood suckers n beneficiaries will put all the obstacles in not doing privatization. Ban the union under essential service act and let the international bidder take the control to prepare this losing public concern for ultimate analysis to be a private ltd company.

Parvez Oct 30, 2015 10:20pm

You can't bring the dead back to life.....its wishful thinking.

Syed Mahmood Oct 30, 2015 11:18pm

Being Great is in our D&A as Pakistani. Let's give positive feedback or ideas for the advancement of our nation . There is a saying, 'When You Change The Way You Look At Things , The Things You Look At Change". Yes, PIA like other organizations in Pakistan have a lot of opportunities. Let's work together to fix them.

flipflop Oct 31, 2015 01:10am

Yes it is but first we need to change things in the country. Eliminate VIP system. Bring merit system. Limit political influence in PIA. Preserve temples and heritage sites for tourism(which are almost on ruins simply because we are too busy with political parties). Improve law and order in the country so that people feel secure and once this is done we will see tourism development. Without tourism airlines cannot survive and for tourism to develop. Airline can not simply survive on international flights there's more to it.

Abdur R.Jalalzai Oct 31, 2015 01:16am

This is a true story.I am sorry that I don't remember the dates. My flight to JFK was to originate from Karachi.Two weeks ahead of time I bought two tickets from Quetta to Karachi (One for me and one for my attendant,I being 80 years old).The morning of my departure to Karachi I just thought to check with PIA whether the flight to Karachi was on time;I was told that there was no flight to Karachi that day.I told them I had two confirmed tickets for that date and that my international flight was going to leave early in the morning the next day.I was told very matter of factly that their schedule was changed couple of days ago.I had to rent a car for PR 10,000.00 to catch my flight. When I asked for a refund I was told that I will have to forfeit PR 2000 per ticket because I "Missed" my flight! GREAT PEOPLE TO FLY WITH!

flipflop Oct 31, 2015 01:17am

@Zubair Ahmad the same authorities who hired them simply because he/she was a nawasi of zardari, or some other demonic politician. To improve PIA, eliminate VIP system otherwise ots impossible. If we give Pakistan all the resources of the world and wealth of all the world even then our country will not improve. This is because we elect leaders who are not truthful and the worst part is they are all Muslim. I think voting for a Christian, Hindu, or some other minority to be our in Pakistan will probably bring a positive change. We are not "ISLAMIC "republic of Pakistan from standpoint be it l, ethically, morally, or religiously, etc..

Seedoo Oct 31, 2015 01:25am

@haque khan I don't have any problems with PIA or any airline serving alcohol. However, people hop on a plane to go from point A to point B in a safe, clean, and hospitable environment with high degree of predictability (punctuality). Serving alcohol may increase revenues, but it is not the major reason for airlines to stay in business.

Karachite Oct 31, 2015 02:32am

No. Please privatize it. Governments should focus on providing the public with services and infrastructure, not running businesses.

Hahaha Oct 31, 2015 02:48am

Only a "miracle" can save PIA! PIA's "motto" should change from "miracles we can do, but the impossible takes a lot longer"

M.Ashraf Choudhry Oct 31, 2015 02:52am

I wish Mr Tariq Azeem brother of Shjat Azeem had responded to my email and tel call.Iput my life in stake to rebuild PIA.

Proud Indian Oct 31, 2015 03:14am

@M. Malik and the you can squeeze remaining blood

Sailani Oct 31, 2015 03:28am

@Munir A government cannot run a business, let alone an airline business. It should be sold to a private enterprise to make it into a successful business.. If you want to be a worlds airline and then you offer what the other airlines are offering. Over staffing and dead weight workers will eat into your profits. Mr Bates is right with the vision that he placed for the airline.

A. Ali Oct 31, 2015 03:29am

if you can keep zardari and n sharif away from corruption, PIA is salvable.

Irfan Oct 31, 2015 04:06am
  1. Make PIA a true corporation. Not a lip service. Separate it from political influences.
  2. PIA may be overstaffed, but it still has employees who can beat the best in the industry. Encourage them, bring them forward. Change the appraisal system. Implement best management practices.
  3. Government should not restrict its role to injecting money at the time of crisis. It should rather act as a facilitator. This means enabling aviation policy, supporting civil aviation, facilitating Customs/imports and any other interface.
  4. Forget about competing with Gulf carriers. It is simply not a fair competition. Why? Billions of subsidies every year.
    PIA operates 2 flights from KHI to Dubai (on a 160 seat A320) emirates operates 7 (on a 300+ B777). This is the extent we have let things get into.
  5. There should be a limit to PIA's unions, PALPAs, etc. They act rowdy.
  6. A visionary leadership with a mandate to overhaul PIA may change its fortunes in no time.
  7. No political appointments.
Irfan Oct 31, 2015 04:08am

@citizen You hardly have any idea.

Ravi Vancouver Oct 31, 2015 05:42am

@haque khan It is insane to ask for booze in official Pakistan govt airline.

abdullah Oct 31, 2015 10:11am

@haque khan .Its only pakistanis who are so found of alcohol rest of the world doenot get on the plane for this reason.You need to open up and look around the world and culture before you put this up.I suggest you to travell so you can understand .In the world lives dont revolve around boose.

abdullah Oct 31, 2015 10:15am

@JUSTICE .But railway is getting better.Probably we can make imran the president of PIA so he will have some peace.

Irfan Oct 31, 2015 03:52pm

right intent from right corners is all it takes. The last time we had come close to reviving PIA was when Musharaff appointed Tariq Kirmani. He had things rolling in PIA and it was only a matter of time. Unfortunately, he too became a victim of politicized union , PALPA and SAEP. I believe Kirmani would give you a better assessment of salvaging PIA than Mr. Bates

Irfan Oct 31, 2015 03:55pm

PIA is a mini Pakistan. Everything good or bad about country is reflected in PIA. If you have hope for the country you should be more hopeful for PIA. People complain all the time, citing individual examples. I wonder they had any idea about what goes on in the power corridors when it comes to PIA.

Syed I R Kazimi Oct 31, 2015 08:23pm

We are pleased that an authority like Bates says what we have maintained; PIA can turnaround to its previous glory, if only its core personnel are given an honest leadership sans meddling by politicians and the deadwood, who penetrated and crowded the airline through political nepotism, are unloaded by due process.

PIA is still the darling of Pakistanis and any improvement sustained for even a month will fill the seats. There have been quite a few improvements in the last two years but were reversed by political elements bearing upon the management.

And let's not forget the un-studied launch of the Open Sky Policy which has been made more Open in the new, so called National Aviation Policy. Talk about dictators thrown up by democracy!

TM Hussain Oct 31, 2015 10:21pm

Undoubtably YES.Provided corruption is routed OUT jointly from the country and PIAC simultaneously.

TM Hussain Oct 31, 2015 10:22pm

Same as aforesaid

mobeen afzal Nov 01, 2015 10:15am

customer service approach of the management is needed not in words but in action. the passenger today is aware of the options available and would chose the airline most suitable for him. internal and external customer service audits must be conducted and the reports taken seriously.

Fazal Karim Nov 02, 2015 12:03am

A country of 200 million without a good air line, unbelievable. If a government can not set thing right for PIA and railways, it has no right to be in power. Unfortunately illiterate public do not judge performance of the leaders on merit, they go by brathery , ethnic and sectarian considerations. They believe poverty and suffering are written in their fate. They go on voting same faces and parties who have failed to deliver repeatedly. Democratic culture needs to be changed.