Airblue plans network expansion as air travel revives

Pakistan’s largest private sector airline will start flights to UK and Turkey to expand its international network

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Chaudhary Mohammad Aslam and airblue’s country manager for the UAE Sohail Sheikh cutting cake to celebrate 18th anniversary of the airline. — Supplied photo
Chaudhary Mohammad Aslam and airblue’s country manager for the UAE Sohail Sheikh cutting cake to celebrate 18th anniversary of the airline. — Supplied photo

Muzaffar Rizvi

Published: Mon 20 Jun 2022, 3:44 PM

Last updated: Mon 20 Jun 2022, 3:49 PM

Pakistan’s larget private sector airline airblue has chalked out an aggressive strategy to expand its international and domestic network as travel demand picks up following a gradual recovery in global aviation industry, its top official says.

Chaudhary Mohammad Aslam, managing director, airblue, said the airline will resume its services to the United Kingdom once the flight restrictions on Pakistani airlines are over later this year.

“We will resume our flight operations to the UK cities as soon as the flight restrictions are lifted by the European authorities. The airline will also launch its flights to Istanbul soon,” Aslam told Khaleej Times in an interview during his recent visit to Dubai on Monday.

Largest network

The Islamabad-based airline, which celebrated its 18th anniversary on June 18, has been operating 80 weekly flights to the UAE and Saudi Arabia. It operates 56 weekly flights from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah to five major cities of Pakistan. The airline also operates 23 weekly flights from Saudi Arabia in addition to sustain passenger traffic on domestic routes.

“The UAE is our biggest and most active international market and we may strengthen our operations in line with the rising demand from the passengers,” he said.

“We are planning to expand our flight operations in Saudi Arabia by adding Madinah, Riyadh and Damam from major cities of the country,” the managing director said.

Challenges remain

In reply to a question about recovery in aviation sector, Aslam said airlines across the globe are still struggling to offset the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic and the airblue has no exception.

“Oil prices are still trading in three digits and causing unrest in the aviation industry. In Pakistan, we are also facing challenges due to volatility in the Pak rupee,” he said.

“Aviation industry in general and airlines in particular will not recover unless oil prices come down to $70 a barrel. It is good to see travel demand picking up but full recovery will take time,” he said.

Haj operations

Aslam said airblue has just started its haj flights from Islamabad, Lahore, Karachi, Multan and Peshawar.

“We will be transporting over 7,000 passengers during the haj operations. Last haj flight will depart from Multan on July 3 while the return haj flights will start from July 15 and ends on August 13,” he said.

Airblue is the only airline in the private sector from Pakistan to participate in haj operations led by Pakistan International Airlines to carry approximately 80,000 passengers on special and regular flights during the two months operation.

Skardu flight

Aslam said airblue is going to start regular flights to Skardu by middle of next month following successful test flights.

“We will start direct flights to Skardu from Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi amid growing demand by domestic tourists who wish to visit scenic Gilgit-Baltistan during the ongoing tourism season,” he said.

He said airblue would be the first airline in the private sector to operate regular flights to Gilgit-Baltistan. The PIA has already been running flight operations for Skardu from Faisalabad, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan and Sialkot.

“Following a success of the test flight on Islamabad-Skardu-Islamabad route, we may start regular flights on this route by mid-July,” he added.

18-year in operations

Airblue celebrated its 18th anniversary on June 18 by cutting cake in regional offices and headquarter in Islamabad. The private airline was founded in 2003 but commenced flight operations on June 18, 2004 with three leased Airbus A320-200s, operating on two domestic routes — Karachi-Islamabad and Karachi-Lahore service.

“Today, we have a fleet of 11 aircraft to serve major international and domestic destinations. Our fleet comprised of five Airbus A321-200s, two A321-200neos and four A320-200s,” he said.

“We have received two latest A321-200neos this year and one more aircraft will soon join the airline fleet,” Aslam said.

Airblue launched its first international service on Karachi and Dubai route in August 2005. Later, it started flights between Islamabad and Manchester in June 2007.

“We have earned the trust of passengers over a period of time and will continue to serve them with our quality services,” Aslam concluded.


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