Suspension of international flights extended till May 15

Updated April 27, 2020

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PIA has no policy to maintain physical distancing on board aircraft. — AFP/File
PIA has no policy to maintain physical distancing on board aircraft. — AFP/File

RAWALPINDI: The government has decided to further extend suspension of the international flights operation till May 15 in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

A spokesman for the Aviation Division, senior joint secretary Abdul Sattar Khokhar, issued a notification regarding extension of suspension of the international flights operation till May 15.

The suspension of the international flight operation was made as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in the country crossed the 12,500 mark with over 270 deaths.

After the coronavirus outbreak in Pakis­tan, all international and domestic flight operation had been suspended till April 30 to contain the spread of Covid-19. Earlier, Pakistan had suspended international and domestic flight operation till April 21.

PIA has no policy to maintain physical distancing on board aircraft

The Aviation Division said relief flights having special approval, special and cargo flights would continue their operation as per the permission granted to them by the government. The United States and the United Kingdom had been operating chartered flights to repatriate their citizens stranded in Pakistan.

Meanwhile, many airlines have introduced measures in order to maintain physical distancing on board aircraft during the coronavirus crisis, but the Pakistan International Airlines has no such policy while taking relief flights from Pakistan. The national flag carrier, however, is offering an option to passengers to sit next to an empty seat while travelling to Pakistan from abroad.

A spokesman for PIA, Abdullah Hafeez, told Dawn that the national flag carrier had no policy to maintain onboard physical distancing while flying from Pakistan, but on return to the country the airline had to keep around half of seats in the planes empty.

“Yes, PIA has no policy of maintaining physical distance due to rush of travellers from Pakistan. However, we have to keep one seat empty on return due to some embargos,” the spokesman said.

Stranded in Pakistan

Meanwhile, about 2,150 US citizens stranded in Pakistan have so far been repatriated via six chartered flights. The last flight, that of Omni Air OY-378 carrying 364 US citizens, departed for Washington from the Islamabad International Airport on Sunday. Four of these six chartered flights were operated from Islamabad and two from Karachi. The two chartered flights with 700 US citizens were operated from Karachi from April 21 to 26.

In line with SOPs (standard operating procedure), all passengers were subjected to health screening and temperature check before they boarded the aircraft. The US embassy had established facilitation counters at Islamabad and Karachi airports to assist the passengers.

On Sunday, PIA operated three flights from Islamabad for the UK while another for Frankfurt carrying 1,035 passengers. The first flight, PK-701 carrying 313 passengers, mostly UK citizens, departed for Manchester from Islamabad, while another flight, PK-785 with 329 passengers on board, departed for London from Islamabad.

The third, PK-8749 carrying 393 passengers, departed for Frankfurt from Islamabad.

Another PIA flight PK772 carrying 46 passengers arrived Islamabad from Oslo on Sunday. On arrival all passengers were subjected to screening and later they were shifted to a hotel for quarantine. Likewise, more than 600 people departed for the UK and Canada on two PIA flights from Lahore on Sunday.

A PIA flight PK-783 carrying 310 passengers departed for Toronto while PK-785 with 313 UK citizens departed for London from Lahore on Sunday. Another PIA flight PK-8972 carrying 210 Pakistanis, who were stranded in Australia, arrived at Allama Iqbal International Airport on Sunday night.

The PIA spokesman said that all the embassies in Pakistan or abroad have been preparing lists of their nationals intending to travel to their respective home countries. The list of passengers intending to travel by PIA is being provided by embassies. He said passengers have been requested to contact to embassies or PIA to avoid inconvenience.

Published in Dawn, April 27th, 2020