AVIATION WELL POISED FOR MEGA EXPANSION IN PAKISTAN

Heartwarming factor is the renewed interest of major international and regional airlines to come back to a destination

FROM KAHLID BUTT, LAHORE.
May 08 - May 14, 2006

Aviation in Pakistan is currently undergoing a process of mega expansion after many years of stagnation, indifference or sustained planning.

This stems from current progressive policies of the government to open up the country and make it investment friendly region though its relentless efforts being made at all levels. This also involves the extensive steps to improve infrastructure especially in communications. Apart from the Gawadar Port and coastal highway, which are nearing completion comes the urgency of building modern airport terminals and other facilities at Islamabad and Gawadar. The upgrading of other major airports like Peshawar, Quetta, Multan, Faisalabad and opening up of a state-of-the-art modern Airport at Sialkot shortly under a private sponsorship are the other indicators to suggest the big upcoming change in the offing.

Another heartwarming factor is the renewed interest of major international and regional airlines to come back to a destination, which was once the most popular east of Suez in Asia once. With the current new developments, expected opening up of Gawadar and most convenient access to points in Central Asia, Middle East, Gulf, China and other neighbouring countries, a whole new world of opportunities are now finally opening up. That is if the authorities now grab up this moment and not let it slip out of their hands with their usual lack of farsightedness and officialdom for which Pak Civil Aviation Authority has been quite well known.

A number of leading airlines is already back, resuming their services to Pakistan; while others are queuing up to do so. This happy tiding calls for more urgency and seriousness in dealing with the matter in coming days.

A look at the national airline and the other competitors in the private sector is also in order. From all indications PIA appears to be rapidly coming out of its deep slumber to face the new realities under its new management. With continued solid backing from the government a loyal expatriate support in the strong overseas communities, PIA is still reported to be holding a lion's share in the market - 65 percent in the domestic and 49 percent on the international - despite cut-throat competition and poaching by regional airlines through various incentives.

It is quite obvious, PIA will have to now do much more to hold on to this edge, with the expected onslaught of foreign airlines, including some remarkable new airlines of India like Sahara and Jet Airways, who are to soon join the competition.

PIA has already announced a massive fleet replacement plan with acquisition of Boeing 777LR planes and replaces its ancient Fokkers. However, they will have to do much more to face the competition and give up its monopolistic attitudes developed over long period of times. The recent figures released by PIA management talk of their achieving a revenue of Rs. 64.07 billions, an increase of Rs. 6.2 billion, or 11% increase, despite the intense competition and other inflationary factors. But on the other hand passengers continued to face hassle getting seats especially on Trans-Atlantic and UK routes and are standing up to compete with PIA is the youngest and highly innovative - Airblue. This airline has in a short period of time carved a niche for itself for which credit must go to its top management. Its Chief Executive is Shahid Khaqan Abbasi and Marketing Director, Nasir Ali, both formerly of PIA. They have shown how with proper planning you can run a lean and efficient airline which is not only getting their repeat and happy customers back but also winning new ones to show a graph going up rapidly. Most of their flights are stated to be sellout due to good marketing and their expansion both on domestic and international routes speak of their instant success. They are the airline to watch looking at their steady growth and the success story.

The others in the run, Aero Asia, Shaheen both have met with a reasonable success and are all expanding both on domestic and regional routes. They are also planning to enter UK and other foreign markets and have shown only the fittest can survive in this competition in the long run. So one wishes them all best of luck and hope they will serve the people to keep flag of Pakistan high wherever they fly.