Shaheen Air International (SAI) has emerged as the fastest growing local airline serving international routes from the country and threatens to take more market share from the crisis-hit Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).
For the first time since starting operations in 1993, Shaheen crossed the million-customer-mark in fiscal 2012-13 as it carried 1.061 million passengers between Pakistani cities and foreign destinations, according to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) data.
The airline has seen phenomenal growth in its share. Compared to 2011-12, Shaheen transported 43.8% more international travellers against a marginal increase of 3% in the overall number of passengers travelling abroad. In 2007-08, Shaheen carried just 280,615 passengers on international routes.
Altogether, the international traffic from Pakistan was 9.5 million in 2012-13 against 9.2 million a year before.
“Shaheen saw the growth opportunity at the right time. PIA is gradually losing its foothold and it was about time someone started to see that,” said an aviation industry official.
It is obvious that Shaheen has taken a significant chunk out of the share of PIA, which witnessed a 9.6% decline in its international passengers. From 3.68 million passengers in 2011-12, the national flag carrier’s traffic dropped to 3.3 million last fiscal year.
PIA remained the largest airline in terms of passenger traffic on international routes, followed by Emirates, which carried 1.45 million passengers in the fiscal year 2012-13.
Few people outside the aviation industry seem to have noticed the growth in Shaheen Air’s business. This was also because of the fact that airlines around the world had been losing money as fuel prices remain high and competition intensifies.
Between February 2012 and September 2013, Shaheen replaced and inducted newer fuel-efficient aircraft expanding its fleet to 18 planes – far more than eight planes which other private airline Airblue operates.
While PIA has 38 aircraft, the number of functional planes is not more than 26 and many of them are old, with a high operational cost.
The inclusion of five Airbus 320s has also given an edge to Shaheen Air. PIA has been trying to induct these narrow-body planes for years now as they are best suited for short-haul flights to the Middle East.
The total number of both domestic and international passengers rose to 16.35 million from 15.79 million in the previous year.
Within Pakistan, it is Air lue which is pushing PIA out with its eight planes. Out of the 6.68 million domestic travellers, PIA flew 4.8 million, Airblue 1.2 million and Shaheen 672,556.
But Airblue saw its passenger traffic increase 61% over 2011-12, again an outcome of the poor condition of PIA, which is losing its market share.
The newest carrier, Air Indus, which started domestic flight earlier this year, is further going to hit PIA’s market share, industry sources say.
Following Air Indus, at least one other airline is looking to start operations in the coming months as investors try to grab a piece of the domestic aviation airspace.
Published in The Express Tribune, October 6th, 2013.
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