The departure of one of the oldest international airline from Pakistan is a sad event

Mar 06 - 12, 2000

Karachi's international airport i.e. Jinnah Terminal, which once used to be the gate-way between East and the West with unending arrivals and departures of international flights from all over the world in 70s has been reduced merely to the status of a feeder to ever-growing aviation business in the Middle East specially at Dubai airport.

With the decision of KLM, the Royal Dutch Airlines, to cease its operations to Pakistan from March 26, there left only one airline i.e Swiss Airline operating to Karachi airport. It is an irony of the situation that not only the major International Airlines have quit their operations to Pakistan but the regional airlines are also shifting their interest from Karachi airport to upcountry destinations at Lahore, Islamabad and NWFP region.

Those international airlines which have already ceased their operations to Pakistan are including SAS, Al-Italia, Japan Airline, Air France, Lufthansa and now it is KLM which is closing its operations from March 26. Another major airline i.e. British Airways had also closed its operations from Karachi and is now operating from Islamabad alone.

It is significantly interesting that the regional airlines like Thai Air, Emirates, Singapore Airline, Gulf and Saudi Airlines have also enhanced their flight operations from Lahore and Islamabad airports.

People engaged in aviation business while analysing the situation feel that apart from political influence of Shahbaz Sharif, former chief minister of Punjab who was ambitious to bring Lahore airport at par with Jinnah Terminal, the commercial viability of international flights from upcountry airports was another significant indicator of economic growth in the upcountry region. Increasing frequencies of international flights by the regional airlines i.e. 3-4 flights from Lahore and Islamabad indicates about growing traffic from that part of the country which is however a good sight of economic growth in that part of the country.

It is interesting to note that there is a respectable growth of air traffic from Pakistan which is estimated at 5-9 per cent per annum. However despite growth in traffic, the number of international airlines has drastically been reduced to Pakistan. The expert in the aviation sector feel that one of the major reasons behind quiting of operations by the International Airlines to Pakistan can be attributed to the harsh bureaucratic attitude in Pakistan. The difficulties in repatriation of earnings, landing charges, fuel cost in Pakistan which is stated to be the highest in this region are some of the factors creating problems for the International Airlines. According to informed sources, there is a repatriation backlog of 3-4 weeks. The cut throat competition and marketing strategies specially the discounting offers which in some cases up 35 per cent by different airlines is another factor which has completely broken down the compliance of IATA rules in Pakistan. In order to meet the marketing target the airlines had to remain competitive in the market by offering maximum discounts which drastically cut the profitability and commercial viability of these airlines. Consequently the airlines had no option but to shift their operations from Karachi to Dubai which is comparatively more commercially viable as compared to Karachi. And now there is a situation that those International Airlines which have quit their operations to Karachi are operating from Dubai even for traffic from Pakistan reducing the status of Karachi airport to merely a feeder airport.

It may be mentioned that KLM will be the second European Airline to stop operating to Pakistan in recent years. The first was the German Airlines, Lufthansa, which terminated its operations some 18 months back. KLM has been operating directly between Karachi and Amsterdam with onward connections to Europe and America. It had a larger network to serve in United States because of its pool contracts with North West Airlines of America.

Although the KLM officials did not specify the reasons for the closure of airlines operations to Pakistan but it is understood that they have problems with the State Bank of Pakistan in repatriating its earnings from Pakistan. Lufthansa had also the same difficulties and had raised objections to the high tariff for landing and handling at the Jinnah Terminal as well as the prices of the Jet Fuel. They found the prices at Dubai more competitive and services more efficient there as well as the management attentive to their difficulties.

The departure of one of the oldest international airline from Pakistan is a sad event which should be a matter of concern for our aviation authorities. KLM the oldest scheduled airline in the world started its first scheduled flight on May 17th 1920 connected Amsterdam and London. In fiscal year of 1998-99 KLM carried 15,041 million passengers and 578,000 tonnes of cargo and mail. The company operates a fleet of 117 aircraft, averaging 8 years old, one of the world's youngest. KLM and its partner airlines operate a route network connecting more than 500 cities in 90 countries on 6 continents and now minus Pakistan.