Recently PIA acquired Boeing 777 aircrafts. I think it was not a good operational and economic decision, PIA should have opted for Boeing 747-400 or Airbus A340. There are several contributing factors, such as ETOPS operational limits, operating cost and passenger preference not to fly nonstop could cause extra financial burden to PIA.
Extended Twin Operations (ETOPS):
Currently Boeing 777 has become the aircraft of choice for several large US airlines. They fly nonstop to Europe and Asian destinations from US cities. Not too long ago twin-engine passenger aircrafts were restricted to fly cross Atlantic flights. Later years aircrafts manufacturers with cooperation of airlines proved to FAA that twin-engine aircrafts could fly nonstop safely over Atlantic Ocean. The 60-minute rule led to 120-minute rule and now ETOPS follow 180-minute rule. In some cases weather and wind condition or favorable navigational routs prompted airlines to fly 207 minutes ETOPS on case-by-case basis.
For readers whom are not familiar with ETOPS, 180 minute rule means aircraft can safely fly 180 minutes on one engine speed and land on a suitable airport. As it is said earlier there are several factors that qualify an aircraft for ETOPS.
FAA advisory circular AC120-42A and revisions provide operational requirements for ETOPS. The critical components under the FAA guidelines for Boeing 777 ETOPS are engines, APU, generators (RAT driven), bottle cargo fire systems, fuel quantity indications processor and RAT (Ram Air Turbine).
Boeing 777 operational cost verses four engine aircrafts:
We must keep in mind that MEL (Minimum Equipment List) requirements on ETOPS are very strict. Normally a four engine aircraft can fly safely with one generator or APU inoperative on MEL. But on ETOPS all critical items must be operational. MEL on four engine aircrafts is more flexible to give more departure reliability. A four engine aircraft could easily be dispatched with MEL authority.
Further more there are two 100k lbs thrust engines on Boeing 777, which are normally de-rated on the aircraft. Transporting those engines also pose some logistic problems. Currently aircraft that could carry those engines are Russian cargo airplanes of AN. It will be very costly for PIA to fly those engines on charter Russian cargo planes. Where as Boeing 747 or Airbus A340 engines could be shipped on normal cargo planes. It will be very costly for PIA to set up an engine overhaul facility for Boeing 777 engines. It is not economical for PIA to set up an engine shop for four aircrafts. It will be added cost to PIA for shipping those engines by air to and from repair facilities. We all know PIA have decades of over haul experience on CFM and CF6 engines and Boeing 747 airframe. If we had bought Boeing 747 or Airbus A340 aircrafts, capacity of PIA engine and airframe overhaul could be increased and more people could be hired to repair engines and airframe.
Companies who know their strength, weakness, opportunities and threats from competition make better decisions. But in PIA's case it appeared that all four fundamentals of making a business decision were ignored. PIA’s strength was over hauling engine and airframe of Boeing 747 and with small changes could be Airbus A340 engine and airframe. PIA’s weakness is low capital available for investment. There are too many people who were making decisions for PIA at the ministry level who had no knowledge of how to run an airline. PIA’s opportunity is, they have all those lucrative USA and European markets. PIA’s main threat is airlines of Middle East.
Our travel agents could better suggest that what number of customers want non-stop flights from USA to Pakistan destinations. I think most passengers travel with families and would like to make a stop somewhere in Europe or Middle East for shopping or just to stretch their legs. The short stops in Europe or Dubai also give airlines an opportunity to refresh lavatories and replenish food. Stops in Europe or Dubai may able PIA to compete with airlines in Middle East.
Finally mistakes were made and damage is done to PIA through many years. It is very difficult to reverse the process of loosing money where more money could be made. One should slow the financial bleeding of PIA through scrutinizing all the equipment purchases made by PIA. The purchases could be made transparent and compared if some how the reference prices are posted on the Internet. All Pakistani aviation professionals could do a service to Pakistan by scrutinizing the purchases of components or equipment of PIA that ensures people of Pakistan are getting best value for their money. Can someone in PIA publish on Internet how many parts and components are in PIA engineering stores, which are left from Boeing 707 and piston engine aircraft and never were logged into records?
As a footnote, recently Emirate Airline made a decision to fly nonstop A340 from USA to Dubai. I think that is very smart decision by Emirate Airlines.