Lahore: Pakistan’s national air carrier, Pakistan International Airline, found itself in the midst of another scandal this year: the case of the missing Airbus-310.
In the new controversy, Pakistan International Airline has blamed Bernd Hildenbrand, the former CEO of the airline, for taking Airbus-310 aircraft to Germany with him. The missing aircraft according to the PIA spokesperson Mashhood Tajawar was first flown to Malta for a movie shoot and from there it was taken to Germany by Hildenbrand. Tajawar added that Pakistan has not sold the aircraft and no such deal has taken place with any of the airline company in Germany with PIA.
The story of the missing plane first surfaced in the corridors of the Parliament. Tahir Mashhadi, the Muttahida Qaumi Movement lawmaker raised the issue in the Senate and the parliamentary affairs minister Sheikh Aftab Ahmed claimed in the National Assembly that nobody knew where the PIA aircraft has gone. According to Aftab Ahmed a committee had been formed to probe the matter. He blamed Hildenbrand to have taken the plane home.
News Lens Pakistan contacted Hildernbrand to find out his side of the story. Not only he refuted the allegation, he blamed PIA administration for creating hurdles in the way of his working. It is ridiculous to blame me for this,” said Hildenbrand. He further revealed that nobody was interested in buying this aircraft not even for training.
“This particular aircraft was flown to Germany to sell it to a Museum in Leipzig, Germany but the deal could not be worked out.” He added that the plane is still lying in the dock waiting for the PIA administration to decide upon its fate. “No one is interested to make any further move in this regard, the attached letter testifies to what I am saying,” Hildenbrand told News Lens Pakistan.
The A-310 aircraft was removed from the PIA’s fleet after being declared unfit for anymore use. The plane had been in service for 30 years and had completed its flying hours and was no longer airworthy. This story of the ‘illegal sale’ of the aircraft to a German Company has been making rounds since December 2016. Pakistan People’s Party submitted a notice in the Senate against the activity. In March this year, a parliamentary panel gave a dissenting note against PIA’s decision to sell its aircraft to a German museum.
Surprisingly still, the Aviation Secretary, Irfan Ellahi, in a telephonic conversation with the News Lens Pakistan revealed that the plane had not gone missing, PIA had sold it to the museum in Germany at the cost of 57,000 Euro. He added that instead of bringing the plane back from Malta we though it wise to send it to Germany.
“The issue is that the deal, when we did the audit, had a number of irregularities in it. We found out that the tender was opened after the sale had been done. Other than that, we had not finalized the deal, as the impression has been sent around, we had yet to take out the Engine from the plane. Hildenbrand made a huge offense by not taking out the engine and yet letting it stay in Germany.
The German chief executive Bernd Hildenbrand, who had joined as Chief Operation Officer of the national carrier last year and promoted to Chief Executive Officer a few months later, was removed from his post in April this year amid charges of corruption. Chaudhry Nisar Ali Khan was quoted earlier this year by the media for blaming Hildenbrand for acquiring a plane from Sri Lankan airlines for $8000 per hour while another airline had made the same arrangement for half the cost. Hildenbrand was never charged for the offense however an investigation was initiated against him by the FIA.
Baffling as it is, while PIA’s ex-premier’s name was added to the Exit Control List, last year, he was still granted a special visit permit, allowing him to leave Pakistan. According to media reports he had allegedly vowed to return to Pakistan to face the charges.
Pakistan People’s Party (PPP) senator, Saleem Mandviwalla, told the media that the plane was worth millions of dollars but was sold to the museum for just Pakistani Rs 5.3 million. Whether the money made through the Maltese commercial activity, or the alleged sale, ever reached Pakistan is anybody’s guess. “Every body is lying about the sale of the plane. From top to bottom everybody in the PIA was involved in this sale,” alleged Mandiwalla.
News Lens Pakistan learnt that prior to the sale engines are extracted from the aircraft. Mandiwalla demanded to know how could they even take the plane with its engine to Germany. Media reports also allege that at one point the idea of selling the aircraft as scrap was also considered by the authorities.
Mandiwalla hinted at other anomalies and missing links in this case. “The plane should have been brought back from Malta and then sent to Germany after dismemberment,” he added. He further said that when their committee on Aviation asked the PIA authorities to produce the contract and tender, they failed to do so, which indicates that the plane was sold with bad intention and for personal gains.
Hildenbrand shared with News Lens Pakistan the copy of the letter that had been sent to PIA about the plane parked at the Germany Airport. Even Ellahi conceded to this magazine that we have been asked to pay penalty for parking the plane.
One thing clear amidst the latest PIA kerfuffle is that Hildenbrand should be questioned. However, until a full report of the investigations surface, neither Ellahi nor Tajawar or anyone has a clue that how the matter of the disappeared or the sold plane will be decided.