AirSial, Pakistan's third airline in the private sector after Airblue and Serene Air, will begin its commercial operations on domestic routes by June, while its international service is likely to start from Dubai next year.
The Sialkot-based startup airline, which is owned by local businessmen, will initially link its home base to major airports such as Karachi, Lahore, and Islamabad through weekly flights. Later it has a plan to connect Peshawar and Quetta and boost flight frequency as per demand on the particular route, according to an airline official.
"We may start international flight operations from the Middle East by next year and Dubai will be the most preferred choice for our first overseas service," said the official, asking to remain anonymous.
The federal cabinet recently waived off non-conformance charges on AirSial after it failed to acquire the Air Operation Certificate within the stipulated time of two years and gave a go-ahead to the newly-launched airline to start operations.
The airline recently signed a deal with New York-listed aircraft lessor AerCap for three Airbus A320 to meet the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) requirement of minimum three airplanes to start domestic operations. It is planning to acquire two more aircraft to increase the fleet size to five so it could be eligible to start its scheduled international services by next year.
Dublin-based AerCap said in a statement that three aircraft are scheduled to be delivered to AirSial in the second quarter of 2020.
"With the rapid growth in air traffic in Pakistan as well as air liberalisation, AirSial is well positioned to take advantage of this opportunity," Aengus Kelly, chief executive of AerCap, said.
AerCap, which serves approximately 200 customers in 80 countries, is the global leader in aircraft leasing with 1,360 aircraft owned, managed or on order. It has $43.5 billion of total assets as of September 30, 2019.
Fazal Jilani, chairman of AirSial, acknowledged AerCap for not only recognising the potential of the Pakistan aviation market but also showing their firm belief in the Sialkot business community.
"We at AirSial, along with AerCap, will take our new partnership to the highest of standards and together make AirSial 'The Pride of Pakistan'," Jilani said.
Saj Ahmad, chief analyst at StrategicAero Research, said AirSial has secured three Airbus jets from AerCap to start operations, but the real challenge will be having the financial muscle to proliferate routes and convince the Pakistani CAA to offer it slots so that it can compete directly with state airline, PIA.
"Throw into the mix the successful presence and loyal brand following of Serene Air, AirSial arguably has to determine which side of the fence it wants to be on. Does it want to establish a greater low-cost presence? Does it want to battle PIA on domestic routes? Is it looking beyond Pakistan for revenue generating opportunities? Does it want to be a full service airline or a hybrid? These are all unknown elements right now," Ahmad said.
"While AirSial will get off the ground, they only need to look at airblue whose growth has stagnated and Shaheen Air, which went bust because it had no idea what business model to employ," he said.
"If AirSial is to survive in a constrained Pakistani aviation market, it needs to determine what path it wants to follow - and fast. Otherwise, this new startup airline will vanish as quickly as it has emerged," Ahmad concluded.
This article has been amended from its original source.
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