The story of 'missing' PIA plane!

Aircraft was not stolen but sold, airline confirms to SC

Published: 12:54 PM, 19 Feb, 2020
The story of 'missing' PIA plane!
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We live in a country where things as big as an aeroplane can vanish into thin air, just like boom! But when it comes to grinding, even a needle can be found from a haystack.

The PIA administration on Wednesday confirmed that a plane which had gone missing mysteriously and probe agencies were trying to find, had not been stolen as believed initially.

During the hearing of the case, the administration of the national flag carrier revealed that the aircraft had actually been sold.

In its reply submitted in the court, the Pakistan International Airlines said the plane run out of its manufacturer's prescribed age in 2016 and it was later sent to Germany for grounding with the permission of the Civil Aviation Authority.

The grounded plane was also used for the shooting of movie after it was grounded and the airline earned 210 thousand euros from this, they said.

The two engines of the plane were sold for 1.3 million dollars, while the rest of the plane structure yielded 103 thousand dollars, the PIA revealed.

The airline administration said that it was fully cooperating in case the investigation and it has already submitted a no-objection certificate (NOC) issued to the Air Mashal Arshad Malik from the Pakistan Air Force. 

It also said that the Federal Investigation Agency and the National Accountability Bureau were already investigating the presumably missing plane when the current administration of the airline took charge.

Now you must be wondering what the heck the NAB and FIA were looking for it the plane did not go missing at all.

Here’s background

The reports that a PIA plane had gone missing first surfaced in 2017. Later the question was raised in the Senate Senator Tahir Hussain who stated that he had heard that a PIA plane had gone missing from the fleet.

Then Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Sheikh Aftab Ahmad confirmed that missing-plane news and informed the Upper House of the Parliament that they have formed a committee to probe the issue. But the committee “has not found any clue so far”, he revealed.

Some reports, thought to be more of rumours at the time, suggested that the former PIA CEO Bernd Hildenbrand had taken the plane to Germany for some unknown reason.

The situation left the people to play the guessing game. And hell yeah, we Pakistanis are wildly good at it.

“The plane is there to sit on the Berlin wall like a bird, flutter its wings and announce to both the capitalist and communist worlds that PIA is the greatest controversy creator in the world,” someone with a conspiratorial mind might have suggested.

“No dude, come on! The plane is there just to make sure enough Afghans are coming there as migrants so they do not come to Pakistan instead and burden this poor country’s economy,” another might have quipped.

Enough of the jokes. Let’s get back to facts!

The PIA was in a panic and the airline spokesperson told the media that it was not a Boeing plane but an Airbus A-310 – like he was trying to say, chill guys, it’s just a goat, not a camel that is somehow unaccounted for.

However, the spokesperson actually provided a great sense of relief when he pronounced that the plane was “not missing” but was “in Germany”.

The PIA official said that the plane had been chartered by a British company for a movie in Malta and later it was flown to Germany.

“The plane had already completed its flying hours and was no longer airworthy. It’s a 30-year-old aircraft and had already been grounded.”

The official said that PIA would have had to pay heavy expenses to bring the plane back so it was sold to a company in Germany.

Now you must be thinking if all the truth had already been told long ago then what’s the point in PIA administration now submitting the same version of that story in the apex court.

Here’s the twist

The problem at the time was that the airline was not coming clean on the whole story.

There were reports that the same plane had been used in an Israeli film and was then sold to a German company for peanuts.

The selling price that came to be reported was Rs5.2 million. This dropped the jaws of many of us then, just like yours now, if you are learning about it for the first time.

This was a petty price for plane. Even cars are costlier than that!

A senator rightly pointed out at the time that the plane would have sold for millions of dollars even as scrap.

The aviation ministry, playing innocent and shirking of any responsibility whatsoever, said that the missing plane was taken to Germany by the former CEO.

Moreover, the versions of the story given by the PIA administration and the ministry had several contradictions and they did not fit along each other.

They sometimes jumbled together their versions and at others it looked as if the two are talking about totally different airplanes.

This is why the case has ended up in the apex court and we hope the truth will come out, in totality.

Mahmood Sadiq

The writer is News Editor at 24 News (Digital).