National News Desk
On a special flight, the PIA-chartered Hi Fly A330neo took one passenger from Manchester to Islamabad on Saturday. The aircraft normally holds 371 passengers, but the continued restrictions on travel from the United Kingdom mean that others could not fly. Pakistan International is currently prohibited from flying to the EU and the UK following a fatal accident in May of last year.
The Government of Pakistan suspended all flights from the United Kingdom on 22 December following news of the more communicable COVID-19 strain. However, the government has opted to make an exception for one passenger from Gujrat on humanitarian grounds, according to ARY News.
The exception was that the Hi Fly A330neo, with a capacity of 371 passengers, had only one passenger on the Manchester-Islamabad flight. In a video, one of the crew members expressed his surprise at the flight and pointed out how it would be almost impossible for this to happen under any other circumstances.
The passenger was reportedly sitting in the business class cabin for a seven-hour journey, not that there was a lack of choice of seat! The flight from Manchester to Islamabad took place on 3 January, departing from the airport at 19:16 local time.
COVID-19 reshaped the airline industry as we know it. Routes between Pakistan and the United Kingdom are usually full, with flights offered by British Airways, Pakistan International and, most recently, Virgin Atlantic. However, once again, the pandemic and the new strain identified in December saw connectivity between countries plummet.
Some nations have begun to ease border restrictions with the United Kingdom, to implement strict testing and quarantine requirements. However, it is unlikely that demand will return until a large-scale vaccine is available to the population, which will take months.
The further reduction of flights comes at a difficult time for PIA, which is still on the verge of a fatal crash in May and an EU flight ban. The airline had chosen Hi Fly to fly wet leased aircraft and to fly key routes to cities like Paris and London. However, the demand for flights is still low.
Pakistan International is taking steps to reduce its staff and return to profitability in a few years’ time. According to Geo News, 2,000 employees opted to leave the airline’s voluntary separation scheme. Overall, in the last few months, PIA has eliminated 20% of its regular workforce. The next year, however, is likely to remain bumpy for the carrier.