Pakistan has been given the green light to operate up to twelve repatriation flights from the United States. The United States gave the flights the tick of approval this week following a concerted effort by Pakistan to get flights up and running. Pakistan has a 12-month window in which to operate the flights.
Pakistan International Airlines’ boss driving force behind the permission
A report in Aeronautics credits Pakistan International Airlines’ CEO, Arshad Malik, as the driving force behind the approval. He is said to have been in contact with the U.S. Department of Transportation before permission was granted. Mr Malik contacted the DOT via the U.S. Ambassador to Pakistan, Paul Jones.
“We want to bring back Pakistanis stranded in the United States due to the coronavirus pandemic,” Mr Malik said in a letter to the Ambassador.
The United States flights follow many countries allowing PIA to operate repatriation flights, including countries the airline does not usually fly to.
Flying between Pakistan and the United States a tricky business
But for PIA, flying into the United States is a complicated business. Because of security concerns, direct flights between Pakistan and the United States have been banned for some time. In the past, PIA has flown to various cities in the United States, most recently to New York. But those flights have all fallen by the wayside.
The New York flights ended in 2017. Those flights went via Manchester, England, to circumvent the ban on direct flights. But it wasn’t a financially sustainable proposition for PIA.
However, the airline has been negotiating with the United States Government for some time. A new airport in Islamabad and stepped up security there assuaged some of the lingering security concerns. In January, PIA appeared to have been given the go-ahead to resume direct flights to New York pending TSA approval. In March, TSA officials were in Pakistan inspecting the airports.
Now there are twelve flights to be spread across twelve months
Pakistan’s national carrier is now allowed to operate 12 one way or return passenger and/or cargo flights before the end of April 2021.
The permission is specific to direct flights. Should PIA prefer to operate via another country, it will need to notify the DOT three days before flying to get a new security clearance.
According to Aeronautics, PIA will be using Boeing 777 when flying into the United States. The airline has a fleet of twelve 777s; eight 777-200s and four 777-300s. They are the only long-range aircraft the airline has and the only planes in its fleet capable of flying nonstop to the United States.
Is this a trial run for permanent direct flights?
Ostensibly, the flights are to repatriate stranded Pakistanis and the bodies of Pakistani nationals who have died in the United States.
But given the 12-month window for the 12 flights to operate in and noting that the permission appears to allow travelers to also fly from Pakistan to the United States, the flights look like a bit of a trial run.
With commercial aviation largely suspended, it’s not a bad time to trial the service. Fewer passengers and fewer planes will allow U.S. authorities to keep a closer eye on how Pakistan handles security at their end.
If all goes well, the 12 flights over 12 months might evolve into something more permanent.
Simple Flying has approached the U.S. Department of Transportation for comment but has not heard back from them before publication.