Indus Air has been issued the Airline Operating Certificate (AOC), clearing the way for the newest domestic carrier to start flights later this month, officials told local media.
The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) issued the AOC on Tuesday after weeks of delay, which saw the airline postpone its planned launch more than once despite bringing aircraft to Pakistan.
“It’s all done and now we are looking at July 25 for our first flight,” said Javed Akhter, who is looking after the airline’s airport services and matters related to the aviation regulator.
“Yes, the launch has been delayed by quite some time now but there is little we could do about. The approval process is long.”
Indus Air, which first surfaced two years ago, will operate the first flight between Karachi and Lahore. Under the licence, the airline has to operate on domestic routes for a year before it is allowed to carry passengers to international destinations.
Islamabad, Peshawar, Bahawalpur, Faisalabad, Multan and Quetta are other cities on its proposed network.
Industry people have been gossiping for weeks about the reasons behind the continuous delay since the airline brought three leased Boeing 737-300 aircraft three months ago.
“A lot of money has been wasted because the aircraft were parked for long,” said Akhter. “No one wants to do that as an idle aircraft means incurring cost on a daily basis. But things were not in our control,” he said without elaborating.
Indus, which is backed by Karakoram Motors as the sponsor, seems to have not yet decided on the exact business model but it is clear the owners are after maximum passengers and don’t want to experiment at this stage.
The airline has opened a large sales office in upscale DHA’s Zamzama area, hinting that it will continue to rely on a network of agents to sell the seats.
“It is too early for us to say if we will adopt any cost-cutting strategy since we have been fighting just to take off,” said Akhter.
At least three other new airlines are also interested in flying on domestic routes, which are right now served by Pakistan International Airlines, Airblue and Shaheen Air International.
Pakistan has seen a growth in domestic traffic with 2012 seeing around nine million passengers flying to various cities. Industry people say there is capacity for at least another carrier especially in the wake of flight delays.
Indus Air Chairman Abdul Wahab came under scathing criticism during the last tenure of Pakistan Peoples Party (PPP) when he was linked to a senior leader of the party.
Rumours linking a PPP leader as financier of the airline had almost derailed the project despite CAA’s insistence that no political figure was on its board of directors. In November 2011, the airline had to even issue a public notice to dismiss the allegations.
Aviation: a business in trouble
Airlines around the world are in financial turmoil and Pakistani carriers are no exception. Even the well-managed private airlines, which do not carry the burden of surplus employees, are struggling to “break even”.
Within years of its launch, Airblue adopted a cost-cutting strategy. Senior management ran daily affairs from a rented office with a lean staff.
Despite pressure from travel agents, it became the first airline to introduce electronic ticketing and its former managing director Nasir Ali pushed the concept of cutting meal costs.
While it was never able to implement a no-frills model, a senior airline official said Airblue is operating on a hybrid method. “We offer snacks like sandwiches instead of hot meals on domestic and UAE-bound flights. Only 32kgs of luggage is allowed to one passenger,” he said.
It seems like a small measure but just by removing hot meals, the airline is able to save half an hour in turnaround time by eliminating the hassle of loading food on the aircraft. “This means we can operate 3.5 two-hour-long flights in the same time during which our competitor operates three,” he said.