National flag-carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) on Sunday launched direct international passenger flights from Sialkot International Airport (SIAL) to Europe.
PIA and SIAL together hosted a launch ceremony at the airport with Minister for Aviation Mian Muhammad Soomro presiding over the event. As PIA flight PK-720 carrying 300 passengers from Paris via Barcelona touched down in Sialkot, it was accorded a water cannon salute by aviators and ground staff.
The passengers were given a warm welcome by Special Assistant to Prime Minister Imran Khan on Youth Affairs Usman Dar, SIAL Chairman Nadeem Qureshi, Provincial Minister for Special Education Chaudhry Muhammad Ikhlaq, senior PIA officials and travel industry leaders.
Soomro then formally launched PIA's Europe-bound flights from SIAL, with PK-769 departing for Paris and Barcelona.
Senior PIA officials said that during the initial stage, PIA will run direct flights between Paris, Barcelona and Sialkot once a week, and the number of flights to other European countries will be increased soon.
Soomro, while addressing the participants of the ceremony, praised the spirit and struggle of Sialkot's business community, which established Asia's first-ever private sector airport, SIAL, on a self-help basis and then went on to establish a private airline, AirSial, also through their own means.
He said the government was making sincere efforts to ensure the provision of international standard and advanced aviation facilities for passengers at all airports across Pakistan.
The aviation minister also took the opportunity to give a nod to the city's exporters whom he termed as "the jewels of the nation's economy". He recognised their pivotal role in strengthening the economy and boosting exports, earning precious foreign exchange to the tune of US $2 billion annually.
SIAL Chairman Nadeem Anwar Qureshi said the success of the international airport had built trust and boosted the confidence of foreign airlines.
He said after the successful flight operation conducted by Saudi Arabia's private international airline, Saudi Gulf Airline, direct passenger flights between Saudi Arabia and Pakistan would also be launched by the official airline, Saudi Arabian Airlines, very soon.
The chairman added that as many as 55 international passenger flights will take off to foreign destinations from SIAL, a number which will soon see an increase due to the growing number of passengers.