Ban on PIA aircraft hits travel to Pakistan
London, April 22 (IANS) Britons flying to and from Pakistan have been hit severely by a European Union ban on most Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) aircraft.
PIA has been tight-lipped about the impact of the EU ban. But bookings on PIA have plummeted about 50 percent since EU refused landing rights to its Boeing 747s and Airbus A310s because of safety concerns back in January, it is reliably learnt.
At first passengers were forced to pay hiked rates in February and March in a bid to get a seat on PIA, which flies directly to Pakistan from Birmingham, Glasgow, Heathrow, Manchester and Stansted.
The scramble was due to the airline having just seven Boeing 777s flying from Britain to Islamabad, Lahore and Karachi now from a total fleet of 33 planes before the EU ban.
Mehboob Ahmed, CEO of Mehboob Travels, Walthamstow, which has been catering to PIA passengers since 1975, told the Eastern Eye newspaper: "There has been a real crisis for over a year now. PIA had been warned of the ban for months but did nothing to improve its aircraft. We deal with approximately 50 PIA reservation requests on a daily basis. During the crisis, this dropped by nearly 50 percent as everybody was fed up with uncertainties.
"The problem still exists but more for planes coming into Britain from Pakistan. Things are improving fast and now that they have appointed a new chairman we hope the crisis will soon be lifted."
Pakistan's government replaced Tariq Kirmani as the chairman of its national carrier last month. The new chairman, Zafar A. Khan, will have to deal with competition from private airlines Airblue and Shaheen, both to be launched later this year.
Ghulam Abbas, owner of Al-Karam travel agency in Rochdale, said: "Because there was a ban in force on flights from Glasgow and Stansted, passengers were being diverted to us making seats harder to book."
Shadab Hussain, a reservations coordinator at Greenland Travel in London, said: "As the main agents for PIA we did not face much problems. But a lot of sub-agents were staying away from the airline to avoid the hassle of refunds because of cancelled flights.
"Passengers were unable to get the best deal because they were unable to shop around."
PIA has promised passengers a modernised fleet by June 2007.