KARACHI: Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) on Friday said it does not recognise a survey conducted by a website, which recently declared Islamabad’s Benazir Bhutto International Airport as the worst in the world.
“We strongly contest the findings of that website’s survey,” DG CAA Air Marshal (R) Muhammad Yousaf said in his opening remarks at a press briefing on Friday. “The problem is that no one here bothers to check source of such information.”
Last week news stories based based on a poll by the website Sleeping in Airports was published which placed the Islamabad airport at the head of a list of worst airports in the world.
Yousaf said the purpose of the polling website is to gauge the facilities provided to those who intend to spend the night at the airports. “Even the Saudi authorities have rejected the result.”
As part of its drive to make air travel comfortable for passengers, the CAA has put in place a system to receive complaints for passengers. “And as per our data, the complaints have actually gone down by 40% over past few months.”
However, he admitted that Islamabad airport falls short of meeting standards of an international airport. “It is housed in an old building and over the years we have just kept on adding sections to it.”
Pakistan’s third-largest airport in terms of passenger traffic, Islamabad airport has a capacity to handle about 3 million passengers a year against a flow of 4 million travellers, the DG said.
The CAA DG added that he was taking personal interest in Islamabad airport’s infrastructure. “Washrooms were really dirty. So we are building new ones. Similarly more airline counters are being added to facilitate passengers.”
CAA has been reluctant to invest in the Islamabad airport since a new multi-billion rupee airport is being built near by.
“The new airport is expected to become functional by the end of 2016. It would be the only one in Pakistan with the ability to handle jets the size of Airbus 380. Now that would be something, which can be compared with other international airports.”
The online Guide to Sleeping in Airports carries out annual surveys on its website asking visitors to rate the airports based on a set of questions such as overall experience at the airport, the cleanliness, comfort, and customer service.
Donna McSherry, who founded the website in mid 1990s, told The Express Tribune that the survey was open from September 2013 to August 2014 and over 18,000 people voted.
It remains unclear how many people voted for Islamabad airport or if that response frequency corresponds with the traffic it handles, which is minimal compared to larger airports in other countries.
“There are automatic vote spamming checks involved to prevent users from voting for one airport over and over again,” she said in her response via email.
About the possibility of people from a specific region jacking up votes in favour or against a particular airport, she said the website has checks to see that all votes, positive or negative, are not coming from just one city or country.
She acknowledged that the polling webpage was not recognised by any official body, i.e. the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO).
The website is frequently quoted by leading media organisations such as the CNN, which also carried the latest survey on October 20.
The Benazir Bhutto International Airport Islamabad handled 4.1 million passengers or 23.25% of overall passengers in Pakistan in fiscal 2013-14, 9.55% more than the traffic it saw in the previous year.
Around 36,000 flights land and take off from the airport every year.
Sorry, CAA can’t get tough
The ‘news’ about flight delays and the resulting inconvenience for the passengers that often receive wide media coverage might be nerve wrecking for the airport managers but the CAA DG says he can’t do much on the matter.
“We have just four airlines – PIA, Shaheen, Airblue and Air Indus. Even they face problems because fares are not sufficient to cover all their costs. They will shut down if we exert any pressure on them,” Yousaf explained.
“If we were getting 100 airlines then definitely we could get tough on them. But the reality is that right now we are having a hard time convincing airlines to come here.”