–British diplomat says airline’s return due to ‘improvement in security environment’ in country
–BA is due to begin London Heathrow-Islamabad service on June 2, with three weekly flights by Boeing 787 Dreamliner
ISLAMABAD: British Airways (BA), the United Kingdom’s national carrier, will restart its flight operations to Pakistan from June — a decade after it stopped operating in the country owing to a poor security situation.
BA, which is owned by Spanish-registered IAG, is due to begin the London Heathrow-Islamabad service on June 2, with three weekly flights by the airline’s newest long-haul aircraft, the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.
The airline halted flights following one of the most high-profile attacks in Pakistan’s history, the 2008 Marriott Hotel bombing in Islamabad, which took place during a period of devastating militant violence that swept the country.
But security has since improved, with militant attacks sharply down. In Islamabad, a web of road checkpoints dotted across the city for more than a decade has mostly been dismantled.
The announcement was made by BA’s Head of Asia Pacific and Middle East Sales Robert Williams in a joint press conference with PM’s Special Assistant on Overseas Pakistanis Zulfiqar Bukhari and Commerce Adviser Abdul Razak Dawood.
Robert Williams, Head of Sales for Asia Pacific and the Middle East for British Airways, said the carrier believes the route “will be particularly popular with the British Pakistani community who want to visit, or be visited by, their relatives”.
Addressing the press, Bukhari said: “British Airways coming back after a decade shows you where we were and how far we have come”. “Pakistan is becoming less isolated and more connected to the world, and that’s the Pakistan we want to see.”
It’s a huge step for this government that it has given foreign investors that security to come back, he said, adding that security was “vital” for other various investments to come in.
Bukhari added that the second important point was the “connectivity factor”. “British Airways is a prestigious airline,” noted Bukhari, who is a dual national of the United Kingdom.
Richard Crowder, the Deputy British High Commissioner to Pakistan, told reporters in Islamabad BA’s return was in large part due to “an improvement in the security environment in this country”.
Pakistani officials hailed BA’s move, saying it will offer confidence to other foreign investors and make the country less isolated.
“Once it gets around the world that British Airways has put its stamp of approval on Pakistan, it will put us one or two notches up as a country to do business with,” said Commerce Minister Abdul Razak Dawood.
At present, only loss-making national carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flies directly from Pakistan to Britain, but its aging fleet of planes is a frequent source of complaints by passengers.
Middle Eastern carriers Qatar Airways, Etihad Airways and Emirates have a strong presence in Pakistan and have been eating into PIA’s dwindling market share. Turkish Airlines also lays on a regular service to Pakistan.
Islamabad has been running international advertising campaigns to rejuvenate its tourism sector that was wiped out by Islamist violence that destabilised the country following the 9/11 attacks in the United States in 2001 and the US-led war in Afghanistan.
On the other hand, Inter-Services Public Relations (ISPR) Director General Major General Asif Ghafoor thanked the BA for reviving its operations in Pakistan and said: “The dividends of decades-long struggle of Pakistani nation and its security forces for the restoration of peace and stability in the country are on the way.”
The dividends of decades long struggle of Pakistani nation and its security forces for restoration of peace and stability in the country are on the way. Thanks to @British_Airways for reviving its flight operations in Pakistan.@TomDrewUK#PeacefulPakistan#ہمیں_آگے_ہی_جانا_ہے
— Maj Gen Asif Ghafoor (@OfficialDGISPR) December 18, 2018