Airline Startup Of The Week: Pakistan’s Air Sial

The global leader in aircraft leasing, AerCap, is looking to close the gap in the growing Pakistani aviation market by providing three Airbus A320’s for new start-up carrier, Air Sial. The airline plans to be the “Pride of Pakistan”.

Air Sial plane in sky
Air Sial will take delivery of its first plane very soon. Photo: Air Sial

As Pakistan’s air traffic continues to grow, a new locally funded airline is poised to take advantage of the new opportunities. Air Sial is a start-up airline formed and funded by the local business community in the Sialkot region of north-eastern Pakistan. The airline plans to start flights as soon as the three Airbus have been delivered in the second quarter of this year.

Irish based AerCap will begin to deliver the three used Airbus planes in the second quarter of the year. The A320s will be the airline’s first aircraft. In a statement regarding the founding of the Airline said it would offer “an exceptional blend of flying experience – rooted firmly in best safety and operational practices, with an attitude enthused with the pride of our culture, warm hospitality and service standards par excellence”.

Air sial Airbus a320
Air Sial will begin operations with three used Airbus A320 aircraft. Photo: AerCap

Air Sial – the lowdown

The privately-owned airline was initially announced in 2018 but has not yet released an official launch date. The delivery of the three Airbus aircraft has been the most positive step so far, although many expected the airline to launch in 2019.

Flights will begin with routes between cities such as Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad. The local airline also has plans to launch international operations at a later stage. It is said to be considering countries such as the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, and Malaysia.

Its main base will be Sialkot International Airport with a secondary hub at Jinnah International Airport. Air Sial is the fifth Pakistani Airline to be issued with a commercial license and is the third to operate an entirely Airbus fleet.

Pakistan’s aviation market

But Air Sial isn’t the only one taking advantage of the country’s fast-growing aviation market. AerCap already has a foot in the door as it manages two Boeing 777-200s which are currently operated by Pakistan’s flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines. It also provided aircraft to Shaheen Air International with aircraft before the airline went bankrupt in February in 2018.

AerCap Chief Executive Aengus Kelly said that AerCap is “the biggest aircraft lessor in the fast-growing Pakistani aviation sector” showing the group clear focus on taking advantage of the South Asia region.

British Airways Pakistan Flight
British Airways flew to Pakistan for the first time in 10 years in June 2019. Competition in the area is growing. Photo: Getty Images

If Air Sial is a success, AerCap will have successfully got a second foot through the door. But is the market in Pakistan growing that fast?

In March last year, the Pakistani government opened up Pakistan’s skies, which had been closed by previous governments since 1992. The government’s aim in allowing reciprocal foreign airline traffic was to boost tourism to the area and encourage airlines like Air Sial to exist. Pakistani state-owned or private-owned airlines get tax breaks to help encourage tourism and boost the economy.

Understandably, with more foreign airlines operating into Pakistan, tourism is on the rise. But the competition is high too. Prices to cites such as Islamabad rose after the demise of Shaheen Air.

Air Sial Chairman, Fazal Jilani said that Air Sial is “good news for customers as air prices will return to affordable levels due to increased competition”. However, he did make a direct relation between Air Sial’s entry into the market and Shaheen’s demise saying prices only rose due to the airline’s bankruptcy.

So it seems the Chairman is aware of the potential risks of starting a new airline in Pakistan. Do you think Air Sial will be more successful than Shaheen Air? What can the airline do to avoid the same fate? Let us know what you think in the comments below.