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Security woes hit Pakistan flag-carrier

Pakistan's embattled flag-carrier is struggling to hire planes and crew, a company spokesman said Thursday, following deadly incidents at two of the country's airports.

KARACHI: Pakistan's embattled flag-carrier is struggling to hire planes and crew, a company spokesman said Thursday, following deadly incidents at two of the country's airports.

Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) inducted two Airbus A320s into its fleet earlier this week and is expected to take on two more in the coming months.

But its efforts to get planes on "wet lease" -- hiring both aircraft and crew from another operator -- have been hit by security fears after two serious incidents.

Last month, in a brazen commando-style attack, 10 militants stormed Karachi international airport sparking fierce all-night clashes with security forces that left 38 people dead, including the attackers.

Two weeks later unknown gunmen opened fire on a PIA flight from Saudi Arabia as it landed at Peshawar airport in the country's restive northwest.

Adding to the febrile security environment, the military is nearly three weeks in to a major offensive against Pakistani Taliban hideouts in North Waziristan, leading to fears of retaliatory attacks elsewhere in the country.

PIA spokesman Mashud Tajwar on Thursday said the airline had invited bids for the wet lease of four planes in early May, but has so far had no success.

"We are facing the difficulties in hiring four aircraft on wet lease because of security issues," Tajwar said.

Once a jewel among Asian airlines, state-owned PIA has suffered terrible problems in recent years, with financial losses running to hundreds of millions of dollars and constant flight cancellations.

Last year one of its pilots was jailed in the UK for showing up drunk to fly a plane with 156 people on board.

In a bid to improve its service, PIA has taken to wet leasing planes. Three that had been supplied by Turkish and Czech airlines were taken back at the end of May.

"The three aircraft were hired on wet lease for some months and on May 31st, the agreement was over," a PIA official said on condition of anonymity.

The summer is peak holiday season in Europe, which means airlines have fewer planes available to lease out.

"Aircraft on wet lease are available when an airline has extra unit available but in the season it is difficult to get one," the official said.

Last month PIA also tendered for hiring 10 aircraft on dry lease -- with no crew.

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