ISLAMABAD: The Pakistani government on Tuesday approved a revised air service agreement (ASA) with Saudi Arabia to enhance bilateral cooperation in air transportation and safeguard the local aviation industry.
Under the new ASA, the national flag carriers of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia will operate an equal number of flights to each country.
“Under the revised agreement, PIA (Pakistan International Airlines) and Saudi Arabia Airlines will entertain equal numbers of flights. This will end the disparity in the numbers of flights of the air carriers in each country,” Firdous Ashiq Awan, Special Assistant to Prime Minister on Information and Broadcasting, told reporters after the cabinet meeting.
Pakistan has air service agreements with 98 countries, covering the numbers of flights, their frequency, seats, landing points, and code-sharing. Bilateral rights differ from country to country and are subject to periodic renegotiation, according to Pakistan’s National Aviation Policy of 2019.
Under the policy, the country wants to review open skies clauses and associated ASAs by renegotiating routes, slots and capacity accorded to foreign airlines that might be discriminatory and disadvantageous to PIA, the national flag carrier.
Pakistan liberalized its aviation sector in 2015 by opening its skies to foreign airlines and increasing the number of international flights, thereby also slicing off a large share of PIA’s revenue.
“We have always urged the government to allow foreign air carriers in Pakistan per market size,” Abdullah Hafeez Khan, general manager for coordination and public affairs at PIA, told Arab News. “When foreign airlines are allowed beyond the natural market growth, it definitely hurts our financial interests.”
The aircraft movement in Pakistan has on average grown by 7.1 percent and passenger traffic by 6.3 percent in the last five years. Air traffic is expected to grow further in view of economic progress and socio-economic stability pursued by the present government, according to the aviation policy.
“Pakistan should pursue a liberalized bilateral policy with other countries on the principle of commercial reciprocity upon organic market growth, numbers of seats and code-sharing to protect the national interest,” Sajid Habib, former director-general of the Civil Aviation Authority, told Arab News.
He said the revised ASA with Saudi Arabia if implemented, would help increase PIA’s revenue to the tune of billions of rupees. “The government needs to review and revise ASAs with other countries as well to protect and boost the local aviation industry,” he added.