Separate aviation ministry to facilitate travelling public

Karachi: The decision of the government to make a separate aviation ministry would not only facilitate travelling public but also boot this important sector, says a release of Civil Aviation Authority CAA here Sunday.

It said Prime Minister Muhammad Nawaz Sharif on assuming the office of Prime Minister with missionary zeal has embarked upon a campaign to improve the quality of life of the citizens of Pakistan. While Mian Nawaz Sharif has moved swiftly to tackle the gigantic challenges of power shortage, a stagnant economy and a deteriorated law and order situation, he has also laid out his vision to improve “Air Travel” facilities in Pakistan.

In this regard, he has taken a land mark decision wherein he has separated the “Aviation Division” from the Ministry of Defence and laid the foundations of an independent Aviation Ministry. Shujaat Azeem has been appointed the Advisor to Prime Minister on Aviation. The Prime Minister gave a clear vision to stream line air travel by upgrading the CAA infrastructure, improving “Passenger Facilitation” by streamlining out dated procedures, inducting new technologies, and importantly, changing the attitude of all agencies at the airports to make the life of travelling public comfortable and hassle free.

Airports globally are the first picture visiting guests will come across and their presentation alongwith the facilitation will define their experience of the host country. It is with much regret, when it comes to Pakistan International Airports, which have been subject of great neglect from all perspectives. No sincere efforts have ever been put into force to make them operationally convenient for the passengers yet secure from national interest. With new government in power, the task, though monumental, yet the dream of making them of par excellence can be achieved through sincere, honest and focused approach, this is what Aviation Ministry plans to do. In the first few days, after being entrusted with this tedious task, several actions have been initiated at PCAA and PIAC.

Shujaat Azeem has moved swiftly to comply with the vision and directions of the Prime Minister. Starting with a daylong visit to Quetta International Airport, he has since visited CAA Headquarters at Karachi and addressed all Senior Directors exhorting them to work hard to comply with the vision of the Prime Minister. He has since visited Karachi, Multan, Lahore and Islamabad airports. He has also visited and been briefed on the latest progress on the Mega Projects of Islamabad and Multan International Airports.

The Advisor to PM on Aviation has formed a panel of leading national architects to seek their guidance and inputs on measures to be taken to improve CAA facilities. He has declared the existing Benazir Bhutto International Airport as a “Pilot Project” to launch his drive to upgrade CAA facilities. He has visited the airports at peak rush hours on several occasions in the middle of the night inspecting various facilities, checking different passenger traffic flow patterns and discussing passenger difficulties with passengers present at different levels. To ensure quick clearance of passengers, he held onsite meetings with DG CAA, ASF, ANF, Directors Customs and Immigration and gave on the spot direction to bring about changes where required.

A great emphasis has been laid on cleanliness, serviceability of equipment, quality of services being provided at the airports and expressed deep concern on traffic jam at the airport in peak hours. He has demanded availability of clean drinking water, good lighting, clean bathrooms and quick facilitation of passengers through ASF, ANF, Customs, Immigration and airline desks. He has also directed DG CAA to ensure that porters do not harass the passengers. Mr. Shujaat Azeem has also directed that CAA study the possibility of constructing a multi-storey car parking at airports facing shortage of space and congested parking areas specifically at Benazir Bhutto International Airport.

Pursuant to the directive of the Prime Minister on security environment Shujaat Azeem has directed DG CAA and ASF to initiate the process of acquiring latest scanners to be deployed at all major airports. Taking serious notice of threats to airports and the experiences at Peshawar and Kamra, Shujaat Azeem has ordered fool proof security at the airports and has written a personal letter to Minister of Interior for beefing up surveillance at CAA airports and enhancing the security cover at CAA airports and Mega Projects.

While security is the number one priority, yet ASF is still operating with CAT – I scanning machines while CAT III scanning machines are the standard configurations at all major international airports to counter increasing security threats. This area has been overlooked for a considerable period of time. Efforts on war footing have been initiated wherein CAA and ASF have been involved to ensure that Pakistan Airports are properly equipped with latest technology. A working paper has been developed to immediately procure CAT III scanners on urgent basis so that security is not compromised.

Another major security concern is congestion at the airport. At Islamabad airport, which is a joint user airfield, the same had been neglected and all international carriers/flights have been placed in one block time at night thus resulting in problem of congestion for all concerned agencies, passengers as well as for the airport authorities. On immediate basis, a meeting of all International carriers has been called to develop a staggered time frame to create better working environment. The same will be made effective from August 2013. Hopefully, this change will make the airport, again passenger friendly and a role model.

The Benazir Bhutto International Airport is the gateway to the National Capital as indeed it caters for the travelling needs of people upwards of river Jhelum and extending as far north as the Northern boundaries of Gilgit Baltistan. Over a period of time, the airport has been overcome by a gradual surge in air travel. It has now run short on space in all areas starting from parking to concourse hall and the departure and recovery lounges. Its facilities have become old and at peak hours, this old airport seems to bursting from seams. Shujaat Azeem realizing that it could take upto two years for the new Islamabad International Airport to become operational, has decided to find out of the box solutions to improve the facilities at the existing airport.

Mindful of the fact, that the upgrades must come in the shortest possible time, Shujaat has ordered the provision of clean drinking water in the passenger lounges. As a gesture of leadership, he was arranged placement of mineral water dispensers at the airport and immediate supply of large waste bins, free of cost.

To ensure that passengers spend as little time in security/scanning process as is necessary, Shujaat has introduced the “Combined Check of Passenger Baggage” by ASF, ANF, Customs and Immigration at a joint counter. Three scanning machines have been placed at the entrance with each agency having to electronically scan all baggage jointly. This has resulted in saving a lot of time for the passengers. Earlier, all agencies were checking the passengers separately thus tripling the scanning and checking time. This action alone has resulted in a tremendous saving of time and facilitating the smooth flow of passengers.

Allama Iqbal International Airport Lahore due to high traffic from all over Punjab region has been neglected for a very long period of time. The problem of congestion at the passenger terminal can only be addressed through remodelling of the operations Domestic & International or to extend the airport. Both options are being studied with a view to cater for next 5 to 10 years of passenger load and also to be a minimum drain on national economy that is already fragile. The option of remodelling the old airport terminal building at Lahore is being studied to route the domestic traffic through this terminal and international on the other side.

Quetta Airport again requires a complete uplift as part of the Government efforts to make it a true domestic hub of Baluchistan and to facilitate the people of the area. Efforts are being made in areas related to navigational services, airport infrastructure so as to make it viable for international/foreign airlines to start their operations.

No major upgrade or induction of latest technology/equipment has taken place in CAA for the last 2025 years. It radars, communication and radio nav equipment has become old, while it runway and passenger terminal infrastructure at Quetta, Karachi, Lahore, Peshawar, Nawabshah and Faisalabad has deteriorated through fair wear and tear. All these need to be upgraded/replaced. The Advisor on Aviation has directed CAA to draw immediate plans to rectify the situation on war footing. A major renovation plan worth Rs. 100 billion is being formulated to ensure that these vital changes are brought in by 2015.

National Aviation Policy 2013, a step long awaited by all aviation stake holders, from Airlines, private operators, ground services, cargo & freight management companies and aircraft handling companies. The last such review was made by PCAA in 2000 and since then aviation globally has seen a tremendous change after 9/11. The process of leasing & operating the aircraft at airports have changed considerably. To meet the international standards and to get the view point of all stakeholders, letters have been dispatched for their suggestions and comments.

Tentative date for holding the first aviation seminar to develop a comprehensive strategy to formulate a National Aviation Policy is underway. While the policy for the last 13 years has been neglected, this government will unfold the policy in its first 90 days as promised. The policy will be transparent and take care of all concerns of the stakeholders.