Strikers ground all Pakistani state airline planes
KARACHI, Pakistan -- A growing employee strike ground all flights by Pakistan's state-owned airline on Friday, leaving thousands of passengers stranded with no end in sight to the dispute.
Pilots and support staff of Pakistani International Airlines went on strike four days ago over a proposal to have the struggling carrier share routes with Turkish Airlines. PIA managers say the route-sharing idea will save the financially struggling airline money, but strikers fear it will lead to job and pay cuts.
At least 250 domestic and international flights have been canceled since the strike began, PIA spokesman Mashhood Tajwar said. No PIA flights were in the air Friday in any city, and the carrier has also closed its main booking office in the southern city of Karachi, Tajwar said.
The strike is costing the airline roughly $6 million (500 million Pakistani rupees) a day, Tajwar said. It's also likely having a ripple effect on other parts of the country's already struggling economy, which is being kept afloat by billions in loans from the International Monetary Fund.
In the capital, Islamabad, police carefully guarded gates to the airport. Though plenty of would-be passengers stayed away, some showed up in hopes of finding some sort of alternate path to their destination.
In Rauf Ahmad's case, that's Italy, where he works part time at a fruit orchard. After learning his flight had been canceled, the 28-year-old said he was at a loss about what to do next.
"I just came here to see what is happening and nothing is happening, he said. "I don't know what happens if I don't get there on time."
Rukhsar Ahmad, who said he was a former government official in Pakistan's side of the Himalayan region of Kashmir, was hoping to visit his family in Manchester, England, where he lives part-time and owns restaurants.
"It's a loss of time, and a loss of money and a loss of business," Ahmad said while pondering if he could get on another carrier.
PIA bosses say the route-sharing idea could raise money for the struggling carrier, which has been posting multimillion dollar losses for years because of bad management and competition from Gulf airlines. Carriers around the world have increasingly struck route-sharing deals to tap new markets without investing in extra planes and staff.
But strike leaders are adamantly opposed to the idea, though management denies they will see job or salary cuts.
Pakistan's ruling party is trying to shore up the country's economy, which is wracked by inflation, chronic power shortages and other problems, but it has met resistance from allies and the opposition on pursuing major reforms, including a new sales tax. Subsidizing PIA and other loss making state-run businesses eats up a significant chunk of the government budget each year.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)