PIA shifts hub of int’l flights to Islamabad

Spokesperson says this change has been made due to demographic reasons


Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has shifted its hub for international flights from Karachi to Islamabad.

International traffic of PIA mostly comes from northern areas of the country which was why the national carrier decided to move most of its schedule to the capital city.

“We have to make these changes due to demographic reasons,” said PIA spokesperson Mashhood Tajwar while talking to The Express Tribune.

Quoting figures, he added that up to 70% of international traffic came from north Pakistan, which was why the airline decided to reposition its flights mainly to Islamabad.

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Internationally, PIA flies mainly to Europe, particularly London, Canada and Kuala Lumpur. Besides London, its major destinations in Europe include Italy, France and Spain. A vast majority of Pakistanis living in London hail from Mirpur (Azad Jammu and Kashmir) and Rawalpindi. Perhaps, this was the reason why British Airways preferred Islamabad for resuming its flights instead of Karachi or Lahore.

Apart from this, a major chunk of international traffic comes from Kharian, Gujrat, Lalamusa, Jhelum, Suawa and other areas of Punjab. People from these areas prefer to travel from Lahore or Islamabad because these airports are relatively nearer as compared to Karachi.

In addition to this, passenger traffic to the Middle East including Saudi Arabia comes predominantly from Multan, Dera Ghazi Khan, Rahim Yar Khan and Sargodha, therefore, Lahore and Islamabad airports suit the travellers best.

Earlier, PIA used to divert international traffic from across country to Karachi airport, which it had to change when the open sky policy was adopted by the Civil Aviation Authority.

Under the policy, international airlines including Emirates and Etihad were also given access to relatively smaller airports like Multan, Peshawar and Sialkot.

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Passengers from the north began to prefer foreign airlines in a bid to book direct flights to their destinations instead of flying with PIA for which they had to fly via Karachi.

“PIA was out of the race in the previous equation,” remarked the spokesperson. “Many people who hail from Karachi live in London, Canada and the US,” he said. “However, most expatriates from Karachi visit their country very seldom.” On the other hand, people from Punjab visit Pakistan a couple of times in a year, the spokesperson said.

PIA operates two flights to London, one to Toronto and one to Kuala Lumpur in a week, which is mostly filled by people from the Federally Administered Tribal Areas (Fata) and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (K-P), who prefer to fly from Peshawar instead of Karachi.

“PIA made these changes in the last three months as it faced problems because most of its crew lived in Karachi,” said the spokesperson.

Initially, the crew was reluctant to relocate to Islamabad and some employees even approached court to get stay order on the management’s decision about their transfer.

“Either the airline can take care of the employees’ interest or viability of the company,” said the spokesperson. “It has to make difficult decisions.”

Earlier, the crew flew from Karachi to Islamabad to operate international flights, which increased the cost of the airline as up to 12 seats were filled by PIA’s own staff instead of passengers on flights from Karachi to Islamabad.

Now, most of the crew has agreed to cooperate with the management but some of the cabin crew is still reluctant.

“The cabin crew receives incentives when it goes on international flights which some employees are now missing as they are reluctant to fly,” he said.

Published in The Express Tribune, August 7th, 2019.

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