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Survival Through Adversity

Pakistan International Airlines has experienced a turbulent 50-year history, but as Maurice Wickstead discovers, plans for a part-privatisation could offer the carrier renewed hope for its future

W hen the state of Pakistan officially came into being on August 14, 1947, among the many pressing problems confronting President Muhammad Ali Jinnah’s government was that of transport, imperative for the country’s trade and cultural unification. With the new nation split into two geographical areas, separated by 1,400 miles (2,253 km) of sometimes hostile territory, travellers between East and West Pakistan faced a potentially perilous three-day rail journey or a week by sea via Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). The obvious solution was an air link, the foundation of which was already in place.

Pre-Partition Days

As moves towards partition from India gathered momentum, in February 1944 the leader of the Muslim League, which had been campaigning for a separate state since the 1930s, mooted the idea of an indigenous airline and Orient Airways was established on October 23, 1946. It was formed in Calcutta (Kolkata) by brothers Mirza Ahmad and Mirza Abol Hassan Ispahani, from the wealthy Bengali industrial textile family, and backed by Sir Adamjee Haji Dawood, head of Bengal’s jute (a vegetable fibre that can be spun into coarse strong threads) manufacturing empire. From the outset, it was realised the carrier would run at a loss, but on the plus side it could act as a reserve for the Pakistan Air Force.

A month after being licensed, late in June 1947, regular operations got under way with several surplus Douglas Dakotas and Beech 18s, flying between Calcutta-Akyab (Sittwe)-Rangoon (Yangon). The fledgling airline employed foreign crews and engineers and soon gained a reputation for maintaining its services in all weathers. Such was the dedication to the new venture that even Orient’s MD RafiIspahani stayed behind each evening to prepare the following day’s lunch boxes.

Following large-scale ethnic unrest in Calcutta, on August 1, 1947 Orient quickly decamped eastwards to Chittagong and, following partition, to Karachi. The terrible internecine conflict that accompanied partition saw Orient Airways aircraft heavily involved in cross-border humanitarian evacuation and relief missions.

Now with a fleet of ten Dakotas, on October 1, 1947, Orient began linking the two halves of Pakistan over the route Karachi-Delhi-Allahabad- Calcutta-Dacca (Dhaka); on the following day Quetta, Rawalpindi and Peshawar were connected with Lahore, capital of the Punjab. In May 1948 wellknown British airman, Capt Thomas Neville Stack, took over from Air Vice Marshal Oliver Carter as Orient’s General Manager, but his tenure was tragically cut short when he died nine months later from a fatal aneurism. That same month [February 1949] Orient began flying to Skardu and Gilgit in remote northern Kashmir. Virtually cut-off by the on-going territorial dispute with India, up to ten flights a day maintained this lifeline service operated over treacherous terrain with no radio, navigational aids and only rudimentary maps. Remarkably, this was achieved without any losses.

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About Airliner World

In the January issue of Airliner World, we bid farewell to KLM’s Fokkers, ending a 97-year association between the Dutch flag carrier and the manufacturer, we examine how a partial privatisation could offer Pakistan International Airlines renewed hope for its future, and we go behind the scenes with launch customer Qatar Airways as it prepares to take delivery of its first Airbus A350-1000. Elsewhere in this edition, we find out Hebridean Air Services has forged a unique and highly valued link with the remote island communities it serves, we find out how Leipzig/Halle has transformed from sleepy backwater to major European cargo hub, and we hear how AeroLink Uganda is playing a quirky but important role in connecting its home market. We also shine the spotlight on Singapore Airlines’ new A380 cabin, and we bring you a selection of photos from NBAA 2017 and from Orly, Paris’ second airport. Lastly, we bring you our comprehensive coverage of worldwide news, including a full round-up from the Dubai Airshow, plus Embraer eyes an April debut for the E-Jet E2, ATR wins a major order from FedEx, Emirates takes delivery of its 100th Airbus A380, and Boeing delivers the first 737 MAX to China. We also have all our regular sections covering the latest commercial aircraft acquisitions, up-to-date accident reports and developments from the world of aviation training and MROs.

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