British Airways temporarily suspends Pakistan operations

ISLAMABAD: British Airways Tuesday announced a temporary suspension of direct flights between Islamabad International Airport and London’s Heathrow Airport due to “operational reasons”, without elaborating.

According to a Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) statement, the services of the flag carrier airline of the United Kingdom on one of the two destinations — the other being Lahore — it resumed covering in 2019 after a decade-long hiatus will remain suspended from June 15 to June 30.

It stopped operating direct flights between Lahore and Heathrow on completion of the duration of the agreement — which it reportedly did not seek to renew — in February.

On Tuesday, the statement, however, rejected “baseless and fake” press reports claiming the airline grounded its planes indefinitely due to unavailability of fuel.

“The station manager of British Airways at Islamabad airport informed the [authority] that flights to Islamabad will continue to operate until June 15,” state-owned Associated Press of Pakistan quoted the authority as saying.

The PCAA further said it has also taken a report from the supplier of jet fuel at Islamabad airport who confirmed “there is no shortage of fuel and storage tanks are full of [fuel]”.

The airline will soon resume its services, the regulator added.

The authority said the British Airways management would  soon issue a clarification in this regard, adding that “local management of British Airways at Islamabad is in coordination with Airport Manager PCAA Islamabad.”

According to aviation journalist Tahir Imran Mian, the airline “just like many other airlines have staff shortage” which forced it to suspend operations.

“That is [wreaking] havoc to aviation business as a whole [and] in Europe specifically,” he said.

British Airways resumed flights to the country in 2019, over a decade after they were suspended in the wake of the 2008 truck bombing of the Marriott hotel in Islamabad which killed at least 54 people and wounded 270.

Flights three times a week between London and Islamabad began in June, just ahead of the Eid ul-Fitr holiday marking the end of the holy month of Ramadan.

But UK airlines are now facing higher fuel costs and longer journey times on flights to Asia and beyond after Russia banned British carriers from its airspace.

British Airways’ move to close Lahore operations came in swift response to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to ban Russian national carrier Aeroflot from landing in the UK as part of a range of new sanctions against Moscow over its invasion of Ukraine.

Responding to the banning, Virgin Atlantic said the flight ban would increase flight times to Pakistan by up to an hour. The airline had decided from Thursday evening to avoid Russian airspace before Moscow’s edict confirming the ban.

The longer flight paths will affect four Virgin routes, between London Heathrow to Islamabad, Lahore and New Delhi, and between Manchester and Islamabad.

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