A recent article, titled the same, posted on this website labeled PIA�s recent 777 purchase as a blunder, due to several reasons that were detailed within the article. Whereas some of the facts that were stated did have some truth to them, and did make the reader question PIA�s infamous management for their ($2 billion +) decision, other facts were reflective of the authors closed mind frame and showed a very conservative attitude. Had such an attitude been adopted by PIA, they would not be where they are today.
The author, by choosing to remain anonymous, denies the reader knowledge of his background and credibility in this field, leaving the reader with more questions then before he read the article.
Currently PIA owns one of the oldest average fleets for a national airline, and replacements for aging aircraft have been long overdue. One of the authors main objections to PIA�s decision stems from the fact that as this is a completely new aircraft and employs new engines etc, PIA will have either to setup new engine overhaul facilities and relearn the process of overhauling engines, since they only have experience with previous generation turbine such as the CFM-56, their in house favorite CF6-50, and several first generation turbines such as the 707�s JT3D and the F-27 RR Dart turboprop. The author concludes that this would be extremely uneconomical to do for just 4 aircraft (obviously a big miscalculation by the author here as PIA has purchased 8, and not 4 777 aircraft) and PIA�s only other alternative would be to have maintenance done externally and ship the engine to a capable overhaul shop. The snag with this, he claims, is that the GE-90 can only be transported by large transporter aircraft such as the Russain Antonov 124 or 225 etc.
Firstly, lets take a look at the objection to setting up an overhaul shop internally for the GE-90. PIA already has an excellent overhaul facility established that has been overhauling engines since the era of the 707. All disassembly and inspection techniques are performed in house. This has proven to be extremely cheap for the airline in the long run, and the overhaul shop has more than paid its cost off in the many years that it has been operational. Even the air force uses this facility to overhaul some of its engines. Complete with the only Jet Engine test stand in the country, the shop overhauls a large engine such as the CF6-50 in relatively short periods of time (I cannot remember the exact time period, as it has been a few years since I worked there) and the engines are sent to the jet engine test bench (only one in Pakistan) across the road where they are certified (or not).
If the author�s current attitude had been adopted by PIA when they initially setup this overhaul shop, they would never have done so and would still be having all their overhauls/maintenance performed externally and would have spent countless amounts of money doing so.
When PIA purchased the 707, it moved up from prop powered aircraft and into the new era, being the first Asian airline to do so. Objections such as what the anonymous author makes now were made then too. The jet engine was deemed too technologically advanced to be flown in Pakistan and overhaul etc could never be possible. Well look at where we�ve come since then. The step from prop aircraft to turbojets looks like a huge jump and the transition to the GE-90 only a tiny step. Had the authors conservative mind frame been adopted then, PIA would have been flying props for countless more years before moving into the jet era. This same ideology can be applied to when time came for PIA to purchase its first 747 aircraft. The largest and most expensive aircraft in the world must have raised several eye browse when the purchase proposals first went out. Yet management went ahead with it and purchased aircraft that are still flying today having paid themselves off several times. The large CF6 and JT9D were relatively new technology then, and must have posed a challenge to the overhaul shop, but they�re still doing it. In this case, not just the engine, but the entire aircraft serves as proof against the author�s attitude. What could have been more daunting to an airline than purchasing the 747? Could there possibly have been an aircraft that required more personnel training and changes to be made? Would the author�s conservative attitude have allowed the airline to purchase the 747 so early, or would another 15 years have gone by before the 747 became normal enough in the skies to be purchased by PIA? Again when PIA purchased 747-300;s, from Cathay, at a bargain price, they received with it the curse of the RB211. The first three stage turbine to be used in PIA. Once again engineers were trained for the engine and they maintain it effectively. This does not however say much for the engine itself, which in its relatively short life in PIA has been replaced more times than any other engine.
Taking all of this into account, PIA would have no problem with overhauling the GE-90 in house. This step up to newer technology is measly when compared to the ones that have already been tackled so effectively. The aircraft industry is on its way to larger and more economical things. There will be more engines like the GE-90 in the future and PIA should not wait before large engines become the norm on airliners to get in on the action. They should be among the forerunners (at least in the local area) and have large turbines well incorporated by the time they become more commonplace. An open minded attitude will keep them going and prevent them from falling behind.
The author claims that PIA should have bought the 747-400, an aircraft now reaching its 35th birthday. Since its conception, there have been enormous technological advances, and whereas a few have been incorporated on newer models, an entirely new aircraft, such as the 777 is miles ahead of a 35 year old one. The 777 incorporates technology that could never be incorporated on the 747.
While Boeing goes on marketing the 747, with no replacement in sight, Airbus has begun work on its A380, and last year taken, for the first time, a larger market share than Boeing. This has sent shock waves through the American manufacturer, and serious changes have come about that mimic airbus�s production methods. Outsourcing seems to have been Airbus�s stronghold since its inception. Boeing is now making changes to adopt this cheaper method. This is just one example of several large changes being made at Boeing which will ensure that the company will become more of a designer and assembler of aircraft than a builder. Boeing is also infamous for being one of the least risk taking, and most conservative (like the author) companies. They recently scrapped their sonic cruiser project, for a super economical 200+ pax jet liner (7E7). When compared to airbus�s announcement of the A380, this seems minute. In fact we see a large role reversal here. In 1965, the Boeing CEO bet the company on the 747 (it is common knowledge that had the 747 been a flop, Boeing would have gone under). The gamble paid off and Boeing has been the largest aircraft manufacturer, till last year, when Airbus bet the company on the A380, and judging by market share, won out. The A380 has been preordered by many large airlines in massive number, and it seems the era of the 747 being the largest bird in the skies is coming to an end. Should the A380 come through for airbus, Boeing will have to seriously rethink its large aircraft design. After all why would any airline pay approximately $200 million, for a 35 (40 by 2010) year old aircraft, when for about the same price it can by something fresh off the drawing board that incorporates every new technology available?
I have presented this view of the Boeing vs. Airbus situation, to liken it to the authors view. He, like Boeing is limited by his conservative, non risk taking view, and might just be wrong like Boeing turned out to be.
I will not debate the authors ETOPS observation, but will simply state that the economics of 2 engines, far outweighs that of 4 engines.
Finally the author makes his biggest blunder, criticizing himself. He states that travel agents could tell PIA that passengers actually prefer longer flights as they like to get off halfway in between and take a walk around and do some shopping, and that it would be a good idea for PIA to stop in the middle east allowing them to do so! He states this to show that the longer range 777, the -200LR was a pointless purchase for PIA. Then he compliments emirates on their decision to make non stop USA to Dubai flights? Which one is it? Do passengers like to get to their destination ASAP, and stretch their legs out by taking walks in the aisle, while making several short 6 � 8 hour hops adding 2�3 hours for every stopover? On a typical Houston to Karachi flight this flight would take approximately 16-17 hours non stop on a 777-200LR. According to the author passengers (according to travel agents) would prefer to travel for another 6 hours (two stops of 3 hours each), a 40% increase in travel time, to stretch their legs and go shopping? I don�t know about you, but id rather get there 40% faster. All the same, I�m going to ask my travel agent what he thinks, and if he agrees with this, I�m getting myself a new one.