AIRBLUE

Redefining the concept of flying in Pakistan

By AMANULLAH BASHAR
Jan 09 - 22, 2006

The down and fall of any business is closely related to the national economy of any country. It gives a sense of satisfaction rather pride that for the first time in the economic history of this country, Pakistan has joined the club of fastest growing economies of the world.

The trickle down benefits of the economic turnaround are naturally lending a strong support to the growth of the aviation industry which reflected in an impressive growth of 30 percent air traffic generating from Pakistan.

These were the views of Syed Nasir Ali, Director Commercial of the emerging private sector airline Airblue which has carved a respectable place in a short span of one and half years of its operations.

Syed Nasir Ali, though carries an experience of 30 years to his professional credit, yet still offers a youthful look yet having a deep insight about pros and cons of the aviation business.

Originally a journalist turned an aviation expert, Nasir started his career from Daily Dawn in 1967 where he worked for two years. He joined PIA in 1969 where he worked in various capacities in Pakistan as well as abroad including Japan, Washington DC and New York till 1977. His international exposure really helped him acquire a vision of a genuine aviation business professional especially in revenue management. He is associated with Airblue since August 2002.

Giving an overview of an overall growth of aviation industry in general and Airblue in particular, Nasir says that actually aviation industry is taking a new shape in Pakistan especially after the arrival of private sector in this business which has brought latest technology and innovation ideas and production in this field.

Generally speaking, the aviation achieved an impressive market growth last year reflected in the robust growth of air traffic to the tune of 30 percent in 2005. This impressive growth indicates the huge and exciting potential of the market which is still in store and yet to be explored.

In fact, the liberalization policy of the present government allowing a level playing field to all stake holders in the aviation business has brought a dramatic change on every front of the aviation industry.

So much so the government allowed the private airlines to select flying routes of their choice and send their wish list for the desired destinations both on domestic and international routes.

Having a practical approach under the dynamic leadership of Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, the Chief Executive of Airblue, the airline carefully decided to operate on Pakistan-Dubai first besides its domestic flights. "Though we were initially allowed a frequency of 35 flights a week on the international route of Dubai-Pakistan, Airblue made a modest start with 8 flights a week which progressively increased to an impressive frequency level of 28 flights a week on that prestigious route. It is genuinely a revenue-generating route offering 90 percent seat occupancy to the airline. Airblue is now in the process of hitting the mark of 35 flights a week in very near future," he said.

Under the expansion plan for more international destinations, Airblue is currently engaged in giving final touch to add yet another international route of UK and Pakistan. The spadework in this respect has already been accomplished and probably the Airblue will start landing at the UK soil soon after induction of the new aircraft in its fleet, Nasir observed with a sense of satisfaction.

Currently, Airblue is operating with a fleet of four A320 aircraft each comprising 126 seats for the economy and 20 for business class. In view of the demand growth, Airblue was in the process of acquiring two more A-321 aircraft, which are almost the same except an enhanced capacity to accommodate 158 seats for the economy class while offering 24 seats for business class. The induction of the new planes is being carried out under the dry lease agreement, which is a condition of the government aiming at generating new job opportunities for the local people.

Airblue has a well-knit and strong team of 600 willing workers and professionals, which also speaks about the economics and viability of the airline. With a fleet of 6 aircraft would mean 100 persons per aircraft as against even 250 persons per aircraft in other airlines. The efficient team of willing workers backed by the application of the latest technology helps Airblue to gain economic viability even in the face of sharp increasing oil prices, which are usually washing out the economic gains of an organization.

As far as the performance of Airblue is concerned, it has grown to an enviable height despite being the youngest airline in the country with a flying history of only one and half years. Within this short period of time, Airblue has become the market leader mainly on the back of its quality products, innovative ideas and quality customer services. Airblue carries the distinction of saying good-bye to the conventional ticketing system by initiating the concept of E-ticketing for the first time in Pakistan. Probably Airblue still is the only airline where the E-ticketing technology has been comprehensively introduced at all tiers of its business outlets.

INFRASTRUCTURE

Nasir was of the opinion that in the changing environment when Pakistan is emerging as one of the fastest growing economies on the world map, a lot more is still desirable to improve infrastructure facilities at the airports of the country. Citing the example of Lahore and Islamabad airports where thick fog usually poses serious problems for carrying flight operation. It is because of the poor visibility; at least 30 flights were disrupted mainly because of the heavy fog in the atmosphere. Besides, hazards to the aircraft, it also causes inconvenience to the passengers because consequent to disruption in one flight the management has to go for re-scheduling of the entire flight schedule due to chain reaction of disruption of one flight. Despite facing heavy and foggy weather in the western countries such problems are successfully overcome with the application of modern technology. Since we have almost arrived at the threshold of achieving an economic turnaround in Pakistan, the aviation industry is simultaneously growing alongside the national economy. It is the time now that we should come at par with rest of the world hence the aviation industry also deserve the use of modern technology to combat such atmospheric nuisance to avoid uncalled for interruption in carrying out the most sensitive flight operations on sound and safe grounds.

It may be mentioned that Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) has recently installed instrument landing system (Cat-II) at the Allama Iqbal airport for safe landing and take off of planes calling on during winter when the fog usually envelopes the entire atmosphere reducing the visibility even less than 100m, posing a safety threat to the approaching aircraft.

Cat-II enhances visibility up to 350m thus helping safe navigation of the aircraft. The fog spell in the upcountry especially at Lahore and Islamabad airports persists at least for two to three months in winter.