KARACHI: Amid uncertainty about the government initiative to bifurcate the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) into regulatory and airport services divisions, the aviation regulator has launched an exercise that is widely viewed as an attempt to pave the way for downsizing, it emerged on Monday.
While the Pakistan Tehreek-i-Insaf-led government had claimed to have delisted the profit-making CAA from its privatisation programme, fears of an impending downsizing have gripped thousands of employees when the CAA — one of the few autonomous bodies in the country which has been in profit since its inception in 1984 — formed a body for what it called “rationalisation of manpower”.
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Senior CAA officials were informed on Sept 6 through a letter, a copy of which is available with Dawn, that a “sub-committee has been constituted for Rationalisation of Manpower” and it was “deliberating on rationalisation of manpower for all the directorates” at the CAA headquarters “including their respective manpower deployed at locations and headquarters”.
Sources said the subcommittee was tasked with identifying “surplus” staff in all branches of the authority as a first step towards downsizing in the name of rightsizing.
Employees fear for job security as a committee formed for rationalisation of manpower
Prime Minister Imran Khan had himself approved a plan presented to him by Aviation Secretary Shahrukh Nusrat, who also holds the charge of CAA director general, in a meeting held in Islamabad on July 15 regarding CAA’s bifurcation into regulatory and service provider (airport services) functions.
According to the minutes of the meeting, the prime minister “approved rationalisation of manpower in accordance with the separation of the regulatory function of the CAA”.
However, on July 18, Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had claimed that there was no proposal of any downsizing or rightsizing in the CAA after its bifurcation.
The bifurcation plan is being implemented in the name of meeting International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) requirements. However, rumours are doing the rounds that the entire process is aimed at creating an airport services company, under the proposed airport services division, to facilitate some influential persons — having connections with the ruling party as well as certain quarters — in buying around half a dozen of the country’s 43 airports.
The sources said that the bifurcation plan was being executed in a secret manner and the real stakeholders, including the associations of officers and employees, had not been taken into confidence. They said most of the CAA employees were uncertain about their future as they had no idea about how this plan would affect their jobs.
While the government claimed that the bifurcation was aimed at improving the authority’s performance, “a question arises whether a profit-making organisation has ever had dissatisfactory performance. If so, what is the most justified yardstick to examine its performance other than net income?” said a senior CAA official, requesting anonymity.
In 2017, too, two former directors general and an additional director general had tried in vain to privatise some major airports in the country, the official said. Likewise, he added, the current head of the authority along with another top-ranking official were said to be the main proponent of bifurcation of the CAA’s two functions and their stated goal was to privatise CAA-controlled airports.
The sources said that 70 per cent of the CAA’s income came from its regulatory function — air traffic control, licensing, airworthiness, flight standard, etc — which had just 30pc of the total CAA staff, while the airport services with 70pc of the total CAA staff contributed 30pc in the total income. This clearly indicates that the axe of “rightsizing” is likely to fall on the employees associated with the airport services, according to them.
The senior official said it appeared that the government was eyeing CAA’s profit from its regulatory function to meet its financial targets and wanted to cut expenses in the name of rationalisation of manpower from the airport services function. “Initially, the government will slash the fringe benefits of employees and in case of failure to make further cuts it will sell out main units of the airport services like seven major airports of Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, Quetta, Peshawar, Faisalabad and Multan,” the official said.
“If it gets into a deal with any local or foreign buyer it will give buyer the rights of retaining efficient staff and lay-off the redundant ones to optimise the performance and maximise its income,” he explained.
PM Khan had already approved the proposed organogram of the Airport Services of Pakistan to be led by a chairman who would be assisted by a chief executive officer and three chief operating officers. The airport services would be registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission of Pakistan as the owner of 43 airports in the country as per plan.
According to the minutes of the July 15 meeting, a copy of which is also available with Dawn, Aviation Secretary and former Pakistan Air Force (PAF) official Nusrat told the prime minister that after evaluation of assets, interested parties would be invited for investment (equity sharing) in a subsidiary company for initially three major international airports — Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore.
The airport services company would operate airports on its own only if it got no positive response for complete outsourcing of the three international airports or joint ventures, the meeting was informed.
It was also decided in that meeting that since Lahore Airport was a joint user facility for the CAA and the PAF the operating model for it would be finalised in coordination with the ministry of defence/PAF.
Published in Dawn, September 10th, 2019