KARACHI: Slain former premier Benazir Bhutto’s fifth death anniversary is all set to be a grand occasion for the Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) – and many people are willing to attend commemorations at any cost.
Some are even willing to pay as much as Rs92,000 for a return flight on a private jet from Karachi to Sukkur, located close to Garhi Khuda Bux, where commemorations will begin today (Thursday).
One private company, Princely Jets, will have its first flight take off today, flying a select number of passengers. It will return to Karachi in the evening, and will take out more flights to Sukkur based on demand.
Ghouse Akbar, a director at Akbar Group which owns Princely Jets, said it was too early to say how many seats will be sold during the operation, which was to continue from Wednesday through Friday. “Right now we are trying to gauge the market response,” he added.
While thousands of die-hard PPP activists will be travelling from all over the country to visit the Bhutto family’s graveyard in Larkana, most will be using cheaper private transport, including coach and bus services.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), which operated special flights last year on the occasion, will not be doing so this year. Routine flights to Larkana have been able to meet the demand. PIA runs a daily flight between Karachi and Mohenjo Daro except on Wednesdays.
Princely Jets, however, has always focused on corporate clients and “high net worth” individuals. “We are using one jet for this particular service,” Akbar explained.
Pakistan’s aviation authorities have struggled to promote private jet services despite an improvement in the rural economy, after which they expected more people to start using the service.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has at least 20 charter companies registered, with a total of 85 aircraft. But industry experts say that most of these companies exist only on paper. JS Air, another chartered aircraft company, wrapped up its operations earlier in the year leaving just three other charter carriers – Princely Jets, Schon Air and Aircraft Sales and Services.
CAA’s former director general Junaid Amin said private jet services flourish along with foreign investment, which has plummeted in Pakistan over the years.
“We have a completely different kind of elite,” he said. “The ‘super rich’ here are not concerned about time. They have a lot of time and not much work. I am talking about landlords. They love to travel long distances in big cars with an entourage of guards.” Amin was explaining why the service was not as profitable as expected.
He added that multinational companies are the biggest customers for chartered air service providers. “But having just a handful of private jets doesn’t mean we don’t have rich people. It is just the mindset, which might change in the coming years,” Amin said.
Published in The Express Tribune, December 27th, 2012.