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The curious case of the ‘missing’ Pakistan International Airlines jet

Parliamentary affairs minister Sheikh Aftab Ahmad claimed the PIA jet was lost from the carrier’s books and there was no clue as to its whereabouts. However, a PIA spokesman said the aircraft had been grounded in Germany as it was no longer airworthy.

world Updated: Sep 16, 2017 10:04 IST
Imtiaz Ahmad
The loss-making PIA has been embroiled in a string of embarrassing controversies.
The loss-making PIA has been embroiled in a string of embarrassing controversies.(File photo)

Pakistan’s state-run airline is no stranger to controversies, the latest being the case of a “missing” wide-body aircraft that was raised in Parliament.

When a lawmaker from the Muttahida Qaumi Movement raised the issue in the Senate on Tuesday, parliamentary affairs minister Sheikh Aftab Ahmad claimed the Pakistan International Airlines jet was lost from the carrier’s books and there was no clue as to its whereabouts.

Tahir Mashhadi, the MQM lawmaker who raised the issue, said he had learnt a Boeing aircraft was missing. Ahmad too said the plane was “missing” and added: “We have formed a committee to probe the matter but it has not found any clue so far.”

Ahmad further said PIA’s sacked chief executive officer (CEO), German national Bernd Hildenbrand, had taken the plane home while leaving Pakistan.

However, PIA spokesman Mashhood Tajwar later told the media the aircraft – an Airbus-A-310, and not a Boeing – had been grounded in Germany as it was no longer airworthy.

“It’s not missing. It’s in Germany,” Tajwar was quoted as saying by Dawn newspaper.

The airliner had been chartered by a British company for transporting the crew of a movie being shot in Malta, following which the aircraft flew to Germany. Tajwar said the plane had completed its flying hours and was no longer airworthy.

“It’s a 30-year-old aircraft and had already been grounded,” he said.

Since the cost of bringing the plane back to Pakistan would be very high, tenders were floated to dispose of it as scrap.

Tajwar said the government had conducted an inquiry into the matter but the findings had not been shared with PIA.

Hildenbrand, who was hired to turn around the fortunes of PIA, was sacked following allegations of corruption in the leasing of aircraft.

Though he was barred from leaving Pakistan as his name was on the interior ministry’s Exit Control List, Hildenbrand was permitted to travel to Germany on the condition that he would return by June 10 this year.

However, Hildenbrand has not returned to the country and he is believed to be in Germany.

The loss-making PIA has been embroiled in a string of controversies, including one in May over the pilot of a Tokyo to Beijing flight allowing a Chinese woman to remain in the cockpit for almost the entire duration of the journey.

A senior PIA pilot was taken off-duty for allegedly sleeping on a London-bound flight, risking the lives of more than 300 passengers by handing over the aircraft to a trainee.

Last year, the airline conducted an investigation into reports that seven passengers travelled from Karachi to Saudi Arabia while standing in the aisle of a flight, which was described by authorities as a serious breach of air safety regulations.