QIAP: PROBLEMS AND PROGRESS
By Syed M. Aslam
Sep 04 - 10, 2000
Quaid-e-Azam International Airport Karachi is the pride of the Civil Aviation Authority of Pakistan. The state-of-the-art modern airport complex opened in August 1992 and still handles the biggest air traffic in the country despite loosing a number of airlines which chose to shift their business up-country for reasons of finance and economics. QIAP facilitates six million passengers, more than double handled by the Lahore International Airport, and a minimum of another 18 million metres/greeters annually based on the observation that at least 3 persons come to the airport to receive or see-off each individual arrival or departure. It also handles over 140,000 tonnes of cargo every year, four times more than that by the Lahore Airport. QIAP serves thirty-one airlines — 26 foreign plus five domestic carriers, state-owned Pakistan International Airlines and 4 private airlines — including Cathay Pacific whose inaugural flight landed at the Airport on September 1. QIAP handles a total of 15 types of aircraft- a range of Boeing, Airbus, and YAK plus BAC-111, Fokker and TU-154. A total of 525 flights land at QIAP every week including 309 domestic and 216 international flights excluding 3 weekly frequency which Cathay Pacific will be starting this week.
PAGE talked to Brigadier Tariq Mahmood, the Director of QIAP. Brigadier Tariq Mahmood, a serving officer and a recipient of Sitara-e-Jura'at, took charge as the Director of QIAP in December last year. The following are the excerpts of the talk.
PAGE: A number of international airlines have wrapped up their operations from Karachi in recent years. Today only one European airline 'Swiss Air' serves Karachi compared to almost half a dozen few years ago. Does this mean anything?
Brig. Tariq Mahmood: The decision to suspend Karachi operations by the European airlines was based purely on the economics that has nothing to do with Karachi. Though slowing down of economic activities in the country has been the major reason, the closures have also been influenced by a systematic propaganda about the law and order situation in the city. No, there is nothing wrong with Karachi which is a much better place than New York to live. Many airlines chose to close because they were having financial problems. For instance KLM has not only closed its Karachi operations, despite enjoying 90 per cent occupancy rate, but has also withdrawn from many other places including India recently. Other big airlines found it hard to compete with smaller carriers due to immense expenditure inherent in operating such huge networks. Still others, like British Airways, shifted its operations to Islamabad to better facilitate Pakistani expatriates a huge number of whom belongs to the Northern areas.
PAGE: High jet fuel, landing and parking charges are blamed for the closure of Karachi operations by many of these airlines. What do you say?
Brig. Tariq Mahmood: Yes, we feel that jet fuel charges are on high side and we are working to lower the prices in the near future. However, our aeronautical charges are competitive and it must be understood that lowering the aeronautical charges at the QIAP would undermine the development, expansion and maintenance of civilian airports by the CAA. Without the necessary revenues the Civil Aviation Authority would not be able to undertake related works. CAA's non-aeronautical charges from rentals and lease of offices, shops, restaurants and cargo storing facilities are nevertheless well-balanced despite the fact that it has to absorb the ever increasing operational costs — Rs 20 million a month in power bills alone. [Talking to journalists at the inaugural flight ceremony of Cathay Pacific the chief of CAA, Air Marshal (Retd.) Aliuddin, said that Aeronautical charges at the QIAP is not high. In fact, he added, they are 20 per cent less than Islamabad and other airports in the northern areas of the country.]
PAGE: For the first time in years which have witnessed departures of a number of foreign airlines, QIAP must be very happy to welcome a new airline, the Cathay Pacific of Hong Kong. Does it signify anything?
Brig. Tariq Mahmood: Cathay Pacific will be operating three weekly services to Hong Kong out of Karachi as per the bilateral agreement with the national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines which will be flying a similar number of weekly flights to Hong Kong. The arrival of Cathay Pacific means that Karachi is not only a safe but also an economically viable station for the international airlines. We are already handling such top airlines of the world as Singapore, Malaysia, Emirates and China Air and the latest addition shows the confidence that we enjoy. It means that Karachi is OK. We are working hard at present to get the Japan Airlines back to Karachi
And we are very optimistic about it.
PAGE : What is the potential of developing Karachi into the cargo hub?
Brig. Tariq Mahmood: We are working on a cargo village scheme at the Karachi Airport to develop projects on BOT or BOO basis with the active participation of the private sector. We have over 400 acres of CAA land to build new facilities and/or improving the existing facilities. We are interested to establish export-oriented offices at the Airport including display centres and retail shops which will also cater the export orders. The CAA has already signed an agreement with the McDonald's to build a restaurant and we are sure that other multinational food chains would follow. We want to encourage the private sector to participate in the development of QIAP which offers an ideal location to do all kinds of businesses.
PAGE: Domestic airlines, particularly PIA, are the major users of the QIAP. Are they paying their aeronautical dues regularly?
Brig. Tariq Mahmood: No. Most of the domestic airlines are defaulting. It appears that these airlines are mismanaged causing delayed flights, denied boarding passes, least entertainment to passengers resulting in loss of their business and revenue to the CAA. For the QIAP, which contributes about 65 per cent to the total revenues generated by the CAA in the country, this poses an immense cash flow problems. It also poses cash flow problems for the CAA, the authority responsible for promoting, regulating the civil aviation activities and to develop airports for safe, efficient, economic and coordinated civil air transport service. A total of Rs 3.721 in aeronautical dues is owed to the CAA by the domestic airlines — Rs 3.121 billion by the PIA and Rs 600 million by the four private carriers. This affects the day-to-day functioning of the CAA managing 37 civilian airports operational across the country. However, CAA is doing all its best to exploit the huge non-aeronautical potential which it has, particularly in and around the QIAP, the premier airport of Pakistan.
PAGE: What kinds of improvements have been made at the QIAP since you took charge eight months ago?
Brig. Tariq Mahmood: In addition to build cargo villages to help increase non-aeronautical dues of the CAA from the vast area of land yet remaining unused I feel that environment of the QIAP can be improved by the development of the immediate area. We are in negotiations with a number of reputable multinational and national companies such as ANZ Bank, Citibank, Caltex, PSO and ICI etc., to develop this area for the benefit of everyone and convenience of airport users. To modernise the functional aspects, we are introducing automatic flight inquiry system, data based taxi management for the safety and convenience of travellers, shuttle service, and Metrobus links to various parts of the city. Karachi Airport is equipped with modern radar facility, we are going to have new runway expected to be open in the middle of this month. At present we are facing an acute water shortage as due to massive stealing the QIAP is getting just 600,000 gallons of water against a demand of 2 million gallons per day. We have plans to lay down a second pipeline from safer areas and to use the latest reverse osmosis purification system to ensure the supply of required quantity of the pure water at the QIAP.