RAWALPINDI: Federal Minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan said on Friday that ahead of the restart of British Airways (BA) flights to Pakistan, its security concerns had been removed and the funnel area of Islamabad International Airport (IIA) increased from 10km to 20km.

Talking to mediapersons at his assembly chamber, the minister said Pakistan had decided to review 98 agreements with different airlines as the country was suffering losses due the open sky policy.

“Due to the shortage of aircraft, our national flag carrier is facing problems but the PTI government is positively working to reduce the deficit of Rs416 billion being faced by PIA. The deficit is reducing as indicators are positive,” he said.

The minister said the first flight of British Airways would land at the IIA at 9:25am on Monday and would depart for London at 11:30am the same day.

He said British Airways would operate three flights a week from June 3 after a gape of about 11 years. The airline had suspended its operations to Pakistan in Sept 2008 after the Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad.

Justifying the shifting of PIA headquarters from Karachi to Islamabad, the minister said 70 per cent of travelling business had been shifted to the north zone. Therefore, travelling of the administrative officials from Karachi to Islamabad has been a burden on the airline.

He said the PIA would bring back about 300 Pakistanis from Malaysia on May 29. The Pakistanis would be airlifted through a Boeing 777 and the Overseas Pakistanis Foundation had signed an agreement with the airline in this regard.

He said PIA flights which were commercially viable on some destinations would continue while a plan was under consideration to add more commercially viable routes. Though Karachi-London flight is not viable, it is continuing.

To a question, he said the closure of Pakistan’s airspace had been more harmful for India than Pakistan.

“We have only two flights using the Indian airspace while most of the Indian flights to Europe had to use Pakistan’s airspace,” he added.

He said many international airlines were asking the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for more destinations in Pakistan but we would decide whatever would be in the best interest of Pakistan and for the benefit of the national flag carrier.

“After all, PIA has to improve its service which is operating with 32 aircraft. Under the new aviation policy, the government is planning to increase the PIA fleet,” he said, adding two main political parties who ruled the country for three terms each were responsible for the PIA crisis.

He also said the opposition should support the PTI government in resolving the energy crisis, and also warned that a severe water crisis was looming.

Responding to questions, the minister said the PTI should not be held responsible for the economic crisis. He said the PTI was a symbol of the federation while the PPP and PML-N had shrunk to one province.

Published in Dawn, May 25th, 2019