New Islamabad airport

Updated April 10, 2018


AFTER years of endless delays, suspicions of poor management, bad planning, and much wastage of funds, it seems that the new Islamabad International Airport will become operational for domestic and international flights from April 20.

Said to be built according to international standards as Pakistan’s first ‘greenfield airport’ — ie it has been constructed from scratch, unconstrained by existing infrastructure — it will be the largest airport in the country and is designed to facilitate a large number of passengers — 15m — annually in its first phase. The design allows for expansion, at a later date, to eventually take the annual capacity up to 25m passengers.

Forty years after its planning began, it would appear that the IIA has not come a moment too soon.

The older facility, the Benazir Bhutto International Airport, has for long been a disgrace to travel through. With hardly any facilities, and grossly insufficient lounge, parking, baggage reclaim and layover facilities, the BBIA has several times featured on international lists of airports to stay away from — and for good reason.

Nevertheless, the new airport is not without its flaws.

With its opening scheduled less than a fortnight away, and notwithstanding notable features such as a four-level terminal building and parking bays/jetways for A-380 aircraft, there are significant problems to contend with. For example, no dedicated public transport has yet been apportioned to a facility located at a considerable distance from Islamabad/Rawalpindi; arrangements to make available clean drinking water have yet to be finalised; and several security towers lack toilets and essential lighting.

More than all this, however, is the question of whether such a costly facility was worth it, given that the number of international airlines — mainly from the Gulf — flying to Pakistan has shrunk to barely a handful. Ultimately, Pakistan will have to recover its place amongst the comity of nations as a safe and attractive destination — and that will not be achieved through bricks and mortar alone.

Published in Dawn, April 10th, 2018