PIA Has Operated 80+ Flights With No Passengers – But Why?

The national carrier of Pakistan, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), appears to have flown over eighty flights completely empty over the last two years. This has prompted calls for investigation and some startling accusations.

PIA Boeing 777. Photo: Eluveitie via Flickr

Who is Pakistan International Airlines?

As mentioned above, PIA is the national government-owned carrier of the country. It flies to 44 destinations with a fleet of 32 planes, ranging from short-haul Airbus A320s and ATR regional aircraft to long haul Boeing 777s (they were the regional launch customer of the 777-200LR).

Their long-haul aircraft feature Business, Executive Economy and Economy. The business cabin follows Turkish Airlines’ configuration with the very strange 2-3-2 layout (that’s right, one passenger in the middle of another two in business class).

Business-class onboard the PIA Boeing 777. Photo: Pearl via Wikimedia

The airline flies out from its hub in Islamabad and is popular for its flights to Mecca for pilgrimage.

What is going on?

When you start to examine the airline in more detail, some strange things appear to be going on. The following information was publically found with sources, and any conjecture by the writer is simply an opinion and not fact stated by Simple Flying.

As reported by The Economic Times, a leaked internal memo the airline said it operated “46 regular flights and 36 Hajj pilgrim flights between 2016 and 2017” with zero passengers. As in, fully crewed flights flying between destinations with no one sitting in any of the three classes.

Apparently an internal investigation was called for with the executive branch of the company being informed, however, to this date no action has been taken. Simple Flying reached out to the airline for a statement, but like many others reporting this story, the airline has not responded as of the time of publishing.

Video of the day:

PIA is facing questions from the international community. Photo: PIA

Why would the airline operate these aircraft with no one instead of canceling them?

This is very bizarre, as the airline is currently cash strapped and suffered a loss of 1.1 million USD over the same period. The economy in Pakistan is currently suffering, with the government raising interest rates nine times since 2008. They also had to ask the IMF for a bailout to help keep their economy afloat.

Additional items found during the research of this article paint an odd picture. The airline has 18,014 employees for a fleet of 40 aircraft (according to the 2011 audit published in 2013). A more recent report found that there were 35 employees earning over one million rupees a month (6,363 USD a month), ten times the average wage of 650.6 USD.

Some commentators have reported that perhaps the airline is being used to help fund someone’s lifestyle, or perhaps used to transport illegal cargo or even used to funnel rogue political activities. But maybe the truth is that the airline is poorly managed and the person responsible for these flights was asleep at the wheel and just let them take off.

Needless to say, the whole situation is very strange and we are sure to be reporting any updates as soon as they happen.

What do you think? Let us know in the comments your theories.

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Flying pilgrims to Mecca may incur some empty flying due to the seasonal nature of the haj. Apart from that there are reasons to be critical as the lack of paying passengers is not necessarily the same as flying empty. Muslims may travel for more nefarious reasons than pilgrimage.


Did some brief math… For every 1 aircraft, PIA has 450 employees. Now comparing Delta, just for fun, every 1 aircraft has 94 employees. Definitely some terrible management practices if nothing else. Very odd.

James mahon

maybe they were doing it to avoid loosing slots in airports.


The flights were not empty.


I guess when the airline operating pilgrimage flights to KSA and especially charter flights, one sector will be empty either inbound or outbound.



What I have heard from one of technical staff at the Airline was that at times they fly almost empty flights to Dubai or any other Emirates city in order to have a complete refuel for their next flight to far away destinations like North America. Since because of financial conditions they have defered payments for that refueling. So according to their staff it still works out for them.