PIA Unhappy With Virgin Atlantic’s Arrival In Pakistan

Pakistani flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is not at all happy with Virgin’s arrival in its home country. Virgin Atlantic began flying from Manchester to Islamabad earlier this month, and will be complementing this with another two services from London Heathrow to Islamabad and Lahore. PIA doesn’t think it should have been given permission to fly, and is taking its case to the highest authority in the country – Prime Minister Imran Khan.

Virgin Pakistan
PIA is not delighted to see Virgin’s red tails at its home airport. Photo: Virgin Atlantic

Virgin’s arrival unwelcome by PIA

Virgin’s first flight to Pakistan from Manchester landed in Islamabad on December 11th, marking the airline’s first scheduled service to the country. Two new routes will follow from London Heathrow, connecting the UK capital to both Lahore and Islamabad. For the airline, and for travelers keen to get moving, it was a cause for celebration.

However, for one other airline, the launch of Virgin’s services was not so well received. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the national flag carrier, has opposed the decision to allow these flights, and is gearing up to fight tooth and nail to have them revoked.

Pakistani publication The Tribune shared yesterday that PIA is opposed to the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) decision on these flights. According to sources at the carrier, the airline will ‘raise the issue to the highest level’. A meeting is reportedly scheduled between Prime Minister Imran Khan and Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar, PIA Chief Executive Officer Arshad Malik, the CAA director general and other officials to discuss the matter.

EASA bans Pakistani licensed pilots
PIA is taking its case to the prime minister. Photo: Getty Images

PIA has been struggling in recent months due to a ban imposed on the carrier by the European Union. EASA banned PIA from operating into the bloc for six months from July 1st, following a scandal around fake pilot licenses. PIA did not appeal the ban, but instead pushed hard to weed out all fraudulent pilots from its ranks.

By this week, 110 of the 141 suspended pilots had undergone a license check and had been deemed safe to fly again. 29 had their licenses canceled. With the process nearing completion, PIA is hoping it can obtain clearance by EASA to resume flights into Europe. Undoubtedly, these routes will include Manchester and London, and PIA is unhappy that these have been handed off to foreign airlines.

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PIA was still operating flights

Despite the EASA ban, PIA officials have said that the airline continued to operate 28 flights per week into the UK. They simply said that this was achieved ‘by alternative means’. Likely, this means PIA was operating either on a codeshare basis or by leasing capacity from another provider.

Nevertheless, this doesn’t necessarily mean other airlines should be barred from launching routes into Pakistan. Air rights agreements usually include reciprocal permission, meaning airlines from both nations are free to provide service.

Pakistan International Airlines Boeing 777
PIA sees the UK as a key market, once it’s allowed to fly there again. Photo: Getty Images

Nevertheless, CEO Malik intends to argue his point with the Prime Minister. The sources said he intends to raise his concerns over foreign airlines encroaching on his home territory, and to highlight the general plight of PIA, given the recent EASA ban and other travel restrictions caused by COVID.

There’s also the question of when PIA will be permitted to fly to the UK again to consider. According to Mint, EASA has recently said that it intends to extend the ban beyond six months, amid ongoing concerns regarding the safety of the airline’s operations.

It’s interesting that PIA’s concerns are so squarely aimed at Virgin Atlantic, when it was, after all, Virgin that announced an intention to fly first. British Airways followed this up with its own announcement on Pakistan flights and began flying there in August. Perhaps it’s a case of ‘two’s company, three’s a crowd’ for PIA.