ISLAMABAD: The British Airways has announced that it will be resuming flights to Pakistan from next June after a 10-year break and operating three flights a week between Islamabad and London’s Heathrow airport.
“It’s exciting to be flying between Islamabad and Heathrow from next year, which we believe will be particularly popular with the British Pakistani community who want to visit, or be visited by their relatives,” British Airways Head of Sales for Asia Pacific and the Middle East Robert Williams said at a press conference here on Tuesday.
The first flight from Heathrow will reach Islamabad on June 2 next year. The airline has, however, started ticket sales for now. The return fares start from £499 for World Traveller, £773 for World Traveller Plus and £1,799 for Club World.
The airline said it would be operating this route with its recently acquired Boeing-787 Dreamliner jets.
Improved security situation, new Islamabad airport cited as reasons for decision
The British Airways had stopped its flights to Pakistan in Sept 2008 after the Marriott Hotel bombing citing security concerns. The airline was at that time operating six flights a week to Islamabad. It had on that occasion said that it would reconsider its decision only when the country was safe to fly to.
The British Airways is the first European carrier to return to Pakistan since many airlines stopped flying to Islamabad after 9/11 and the terrorism that later hit the country.
The British Airways first started operating the London-Islamabad route in 1976.
Besides improvement in the security situation, the federal capital’s new airport, which was inaugurated this year, also factored in the BA’s consideration while deciding to resume Islamabad flights, Mr Williams said.
Britain’s Deputy High Commissioner Richard Crowder, who was also present at the press conference, said the airline had made the decision in consultation with the UK government.
British High Commissioner Thomas Drew CMG, who is currently on vacation, said in a video message released on Twitter that the return of the British Airways to Pakistan was “a reflection of the great improvements in the security situation in Pakistan in recent years.” He said the British Airways’ move was a “vote of confidence in the future of” the already strong and broad-based ties between the two countries.
Special Assistant to the Prime Minister on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development Sayed Zulfiqar Bukhari, speaking at the press conference, said the airline’s return was a huge success for the new government and showed the sense of security among foreign investors. “Pakistan is once again getting connected with the world,” he added.
The Prime Minister’s Adviser on Commerce Abdul Razaq Dawood said resumption of British Airways flights to Islamabad was good for people, businesses and investment. “I don’t know how the PIA would be feeling,” he quipped.
Currently, Pakistan’s national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is the only carrier operating direct flights between Islamabad and London.
Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi and Military spokesman Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor also welcomed the British Airways back to Pakistan.
“Delighted to learn British Airways will be resuming flights to Pakistan. … This decision is an acknowledgement of Pakistan’s continued efforts for peace & elimination of terrorism,” Mr Qureshi tweeted.
Maj Gen Ghafoor in his message said: “The dividends of decades-long struggle of Pakistani nation and its security forces for restoration of peace and stability in the country are on the way. Thanks to British Airways for reviving its flight operations in Pakistan.”
Published in Dawn, December 19th, 2018