KARACHI: Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has restored flights to Malaysia, which had earlier been suspended due to airspace closure between India and Pakistan.
Following the escalation in tensions along the Pakistan-India border in February, the two neighbouring countries shut down their airspace for each other. Since PIA fights to Malaysia flew through the Indian airspace, the route remained closed for eight months.
Although the restriction was lifted in mid-July, it took the airline a while to make ticket sales.
“We were waiting for passengers. Our flight to Kuala Lumpur was fully booked and return flight will also be completely occupied,” PIA spokesperson Mashhood Tajwar told The Express Tribune.
The national flag carrier will operate two direct flights between Islamabad and Kuala Lumpur in a week. On Monday, a PIA flight left Islamabad airport for Malaysia with 300 passengers on board.
The national airline will operate flights on Monday and Friday to facilitate the passengers, mostly workers from Pakistan.
As of June 30, 2019, Malaysia had 1.7 million legal foreign workers. Pakistan was at the second place with 59,281 workers, after India which had 114,455 workers, according to the Malaysian Home Ministry.
Before the closure, PIA operated flights to Malaysia from Karachi and Lahore as well. However, now operations have resumed only from Islamabad. The airline is monitoring demand and if satisfied it may initiate flights from other cities.
For Karachi, PIA used to offer connecting flights to those who came from other areas. But it was not a convenient system and the passengers always complained as a major part of traffic came from Peshawar.
After Peshawar, PIA’s major traffic for the Far East destination comes from neighbouring areas like Malakand and Dir.
“The airline is looking at the traffic. As we get the results, we may open other stations also, probably Lahore first, as after Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa, major traffic for the Southeast Asian nation comes from central Punjab including Lahore itself,” said the PIA spokesperson.
“If we look at the traffic demographic for the flight, Islamabad is the central point for all, this is why we opened Islamabad first.”
The new PIA administration has made many aggressive, but rational, decisions to improve the ailing state-owned air carrier, with cumulative debt of more than Rs400 billion.
Officials claim the measures taken to bring PIA out of the financial crisis have helped the airline hit break even in operating profits. However, it has not released the statement of audited accounts for two consecutive years.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 15th, 2019.