Islamabad Airport to be outsourced for 15 years: aviation minister

Published July 21, 2023
Aviation Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique gestures during the National Assembly session on Friday.— Photo courtesy NA Twitter account
Aviation Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique gestures during the National Assembly session on Friday.— Photo courtesy NA Twitter account

Aviation Minister Khawaja Saad Rafique on Friday announced in the National Assembly that the Islamabad Airport will be outsourced for 15 years.

“The navigational services and runway operations will not be outsourced. The CAA will continue to do it,” he said on the floor of the house. “The rest will be outsourced.”

He added that the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a World Bank offshoot, is the government’s consultant on the matter.

The finance ministry had said in March that efforts to outsource airports had begun. Late last month, the government said it was looking to outsource only the Islamabad Airport at the moment. Last week, the Civil Aviation Authority told an NA panel that outsourcing was in motion.

Today, the minister said on the floor of the house that “12-13 companies have shown interest and that there will be competitive bidding”. He assured the lawmakers that the public procurement rules are being completely followed. “We are proceeding under the private-public partnership authority rules,” he said.

“This will be Pakistan’s first airport that we are outsourcing. In it, the best international practices will be implemented,” the PML-N leader said, adding that afterwards, Lahore and Karachi’s airports will be outsourced.

“The whole world has done this. We must decide if we want to remain in the stone age.”

He said the world’s best airport operating practices are through private operators.

“In our neighbouring country India, there are around eight airports whose operations have been outsourced. Likewise, Istanbul’s airport is outsourced, Madinah’s airport is outsourced. There are countless examples.”

He said outsourcing “does not at all mean” that the airport is being sold or mortgaged, or that anyone will be made jobless. “I have been repeatedly saying this, and I am stating on the floor of the house that [with regard to] Islamabad Airport — which the government wants to outsource and which we are working towards — no employee will be rendered jobless. Everyone will have job security and they will get their salaries as per the law.”

PIA privatisation

Rafique then made a case for privatising the national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).“My colleagues know me, I was against privatisation. But even a person like me has realised that if PIA — whose deficit is Rs80 billion this year — remains as is, its deficit will balloon to Rs259bn by 2030.”

He said: “Can Pakistan afford this? No, it can’t. So what should be done? What South African Airlines and Air India did. Tata has ordered 450 new planes for Air India. The state cannot run it. The state can [only] ensure that no employee of PIA should be rendered jobless.”

The minister said a holding company would be created for PIA — whose liabilities he said were Rs742bn. “It needs billions in investment. You have 27-28 planes that are operational. You cannot compete with the powerful airlines of the Gulf,” he said, warning that if PIA is not restructured, it could shut down in the next 1-1.5 years.

“We are putting it on this path. The next government will see this [endeavour] through. All the employees’ rights should be protected. No one should be allowed to play politics on this. It can be profitable — if the private sector comes. It should be on merit.”

PIA flights to UK resuming

The aviation minister also revealed that following “historic” legislation last night, the last remaining “roadblock” for flights to resume to the UK had been removed.

Criticising his predecessor Ghulam Sarwar Khan’s “foolish statements, which cost the country Rs70bn”, Rafique said in the next three months, flights to the UK will resume.

“This is very good news for overseas Pakistanis. In the next three months, at least flights to the UK will resume. After that [flights to] EU and America [will resume].”

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