Pakistan Air Pilots Boycott Flights as Protests Turn Deadly

  • Protests against airline privatization; at least two killed
  • Airline says protests caused 750 million rupees in losses

Protests against the privatization of Pakistan’s national carrier turned deadly in the financial hub Karachi on Tuesday, leading to the pilots indefinitely boycotting all international and domestic flights.

Two men died and several were injured as police and paramilitary forces faced off against hundreds of protesters outside the office of Pakistan International Airlines Corp. near the city’s main Jinnah terminal. Pakistan Airline Pilots’ Association, at a meeting of its executive body, decided on the boycott action until the situation improves.

“We have asked all members to boycott" flights, Sadiq Rehman, vice president of the pilots’ association, said by phone. “The environment is such we cannot continue with flights. The decision is indefinite for as long as this issue continues."

The sale of a 26 percent stake in PIA is key for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to fulfill conditions under an International Monetary Fund loan. Its shares rose the most in 10 months and protests intensified after lawmakers in January passed a bill converting the airline into a public limited company, seen as the first step toward privatization.

‘Stringent Action’

As many as 18,000 employees have demanded officials call off the sale over the past month, Obaid Ullah, a spokesman for the workers, said by phone. He identified the dead as Inayat Raza, an assistant manager in PIA’s communications department, and Saleem, an engineer who goes by one name.

The police didn’t fire any shots, Kamran Fazal, deputy inspector general, told reporters at the site of the clashes. The paramilitary didn’t shoot, Abb Takk television channel reported, citing the force’s spokesman.

Nine injured people were brought to Jinnah Hospital, spokeswoman Seemi Jamali said. PIA has lost 750 million rupees ($7.2 million) over the past week since the protests resumed, Danyal Gilani, spokesman for the airline, said by phone on Monday.

“These losses will continue to increase if the strike continues,” Gilani wrote in a statement on Monday. “If the planes don’t fly then paying the employees will become difficult for the company.”

Sharif’s administration on Jan. 29 vowed to retain all employees of the airline and postpone the stake sale to help address their concerns. It also pledged "stringent action" if operations were disrupted. The government on Monday enforced the Essential Services Act for six months, a law that bans strikes and allows companies to fire employees not showing up for work.

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