Air Arabia To Start New Pakistan Airline – Fly Jinnah

Air Arabia has announced that another airline will be joining its group, this time in Pakistan. Called Fly Jinnah, which effectively means ‘great leader’ and is named after Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the first Governor-General of Pakistan, it’ll be the Group’s first airline within South Asia.

Air Arabia A320
Fly Jinnah will be the sixth airline in the Air Arabia Group. Photo: Papas Dos via Flickr.

What’s happening?

To create Fly Jinnah, Air Arabia is to enter a joint venture with the Lakson Group, one of Pakistan’s leading business conglomerates. The need to enter into a joint venture is crucial in many areas of the world to ensure that an airline meets the bilateral air service agreement requirement that an airline is ‘substantially owned and effectively controlled’ by citizens of the country. The Lakson Group will therefore have the controlling stake, probably 51%.

Fly Jinnah is to apply for its air operator’s certificate, with more details about its existence to be revealed in due course. We already know that it expects to be based in Karachi – funnily enough, called Jinnah International Airport. Karachi is Pakistan’s largest city, with over 16 million people.

Air Arabia A320
Air Arabia’s Fly Jinnah will initially focus on Pakistan’s domestic market and will use A320s. Photo: Sergey Korovkin via Wikimedia.

Karachi to be Fly Jinnah’s first base

The country’s largest city is far from most other major population centers, important as Fly Jinnah will initially fly domestically. And international is firmly in its sights, probably especially to the Gulf, including Saudi Arabia, given the enormous visiting friends and relatives demand. In 2019, just one route – Karachi to Jeddah – had almost 900,000 round-trip passengers.

The announcement of Fly Jinnah comes less than two months after the Air Arabia Group revealed it’ll be starting a new airline in Armenia, subsequently named Fly Arna. Speaking of Fly Jinnah, Sheikh Abdullah Bin Mohammed Al Thani, Chairman of Air Arabia, said:

“We are delighted at Air Arabia Group to partner with Lakson Group on this joint venture to launch Pakistan’s new low-cost carrier. We are confident that Fly Jinnah will add value to the air transport sector of Pakistan and directly contribute to the local economy through job creation and the development of travel and tourism sector.”

Pakistan International Airlines Airbus A32
Currently, four airlines fly domestically: PIA; airblue; AirSial (started late 2020); and SereneAir (2017). Photo: Getty Images.

Why Pakistan?

With a population of 216 million, Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest country by this measure. It is sandwiched by population between Indonesia and Brazil. It is also large geographically, with an area bigger than Turkey. It should, in theory, have a burgeoning domestic scene.

Yet Pakistan performs very poorly domestically. Despite its huge population, it had just four million domestic seats in 2019, OAG shows, and indicated in the following figure. When spread over its population, it had just 0.02 domestic seats per person. That is tiny and is against 0.12 for India, clearly also very low but much higher.

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Put another way, Bangladesh’s geographic area is six times smaller than Pakistan’s, and the pair have a similar GDP per capita. Yet, Bangladesh had more domestic seats per population. Indeed, Pakistan’s domestic market hasn’t really got going. The years 2021 and 2019 have less capacity than 2010 and even 2004. In contrast, Pakistan’s international market increased by 68% between 2010 and 2019, with over eight million seats added.

Pakistan's domestic market (1)
The decline in 2019 was mainly from the country’s struggling economic performance, PIA’s ongoing problems, and the end of Shaheen Air in late 2018. The growth in 2021, while still below 2004 and 2010 levels, has been helped by the entry of AirSial. Source: OAG.

The location of Pakistan’s cities doesn’t help

The location of Pakistan’s main cities doesn’t help with development, with just two routes (Karachi to Lahore and Islamabad) accounting for 56% of domestic capacity in 2019 – despite a population of more than 216 million. While these are most likely to see Fly Jinnah first, let’s hope the startup thinks creatively. One day, it is likely that Pakistan will be an aviation paradise, like Iran.
What are your thoughts about Fly Jinnah? Let us know in the comments.