Prime Minister Imran Khan on Wednesday inaugurated Air Sial, the third private airline of Pakistan, which was introduced and will be operated by Sialkot’s business community.
Accompanied by federal ministers Hammad Azhar, Ghulam Sarwar, Adviser Razzak Dawood, Special Assistant to the Prime Minister Usman Dar, Punjab Chief Minister Sardar Usman Buzdar and Special Assistant to Punjab CM Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan, the prime minister cut the ribbon to launch the airline which will initially operate domestically.
Speaking to the business community after the inauguration ceremony, the prime minister said that the airline was an "excellent initiative" which will create much-needed competition for the Pakistan International Airlines. Furthermore, it will benefit the business community in Sialkot, which the premier believed was on its way to becoming "Pakistan's centre of exports".
"When you told me of this [project], I had no doubt that it would benefit Pakistan in every way," PM Imran said.
He congratulated the Sialkot community for building an airport with funds collected from the city alone and expressed hope that the businessmen will run the airline efficiently.
He noted that Pakistan's economy, like the rest of the world, had suffered due to the coronavirus pandemic and said that even though there was pressure to impose a blanket lockdown, the government managed to protect people's livelihoods and lives.
"This was a very difficult task as there was constant criticism directed at me for not imposing a blanket lockdown. It is sad that the same opposition that criticised me for not imposing a blanket lockdown [...] is now holding public meetings and gatherings even though corona cases are rising," the prime minister said.
He said that if the country gets through the second wave safely, it would be able to protect its people and businesses. The premier commended Minister for Industries Azhar and special adviser Dawood for keeping in touch with the business community and keeping the government informed of the challenges being faced by businessmen.
With its current fleet of three Airbus A320-200s, Air Sial will operate flights to and from Sialkot, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Peshawar.
Air Sial, a licensed airline, is the brainchild of members of the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry who launched the project after the success of their earlier initiative, the Sialkot International Airport Ltd.
Air Sial’s vice chairman Fazal Jilani had earlier told Dawn by telephone that soon after its inauguration by the prime minister, the airline would start selling its tickets.
The privately owned airline was granted permission to run its operations by the Aviation Division in 2017. It also plans to launch flights to foreign destinations.
'Govt focused on increasing exports'
Addressing a cheque distribution ceremony under the Kamyab Jawan programme, the premier said that a comprehensive development plan will be introduced for Sialkot.
Currently, Sialkot is spreading like an unplanned city which puts stress on amenities, he said. "We want there to be a master plan for all cities," he said. Referring to the Rs17 billion development package, he said that the people of Sialkot will soon see a difference.
He said that the people of Sialkot always had a "vibrancy" despite being extended very little help from former governments. "Despite this, Sialkot's industrialists had so much passion that they made it an export hub."
He said that the current government's focus was on increasing exports, adding that it would work on providing a 1,000 acre special industrial zone for industrialists.
The premier also said that the government will fully support the youth when it comes to establishing small and medium-sized enterprises. "This will create job opportunities," he said.