The Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority has announced it is withholding with immediate effect permission for PIA - Pakistan International Airlines, Serene Air, AirBlue, and AirSial to operate international charter flights.

This comes after the airlines collectively cancelled 33.4% or 383 out of a total of 1,145 domestic scheduled flights since October 1, 2021, “on the pretext of operational reasons and thereafter utilising aircraft for the conduct of international chartered operations in-lieu of scheduled domestic flights”, the PCAA said in a statement. The issue had been flagged to the regulator through various public complaints/ feedback forums, it said.

The break-down of cancelled domestic services was as follows:

  • PIA cancelled 130 of 417 domestic flights, representing 31.1%;
  • Serene Air cancelled 117 of 250 domestic flights or 46.8%;
  • AirBlue cancelled 86 out of 261 domestic flights, equalling 32.9%;
  • Airsial cancelled 50 of 217 domestic flights or 23%.

The PCAA said chartered flight operations would be restored on a case to case basis, subject to submission of the following undertaking:

“Prior to requesting any permission for international chartered flights, airline operators will submit an undertaking to this office that domestic flight schedules for the ongoing scheduled season(s) will be operated with a minimum flight regularity and punctuality of 90% and 80% respectively. Cancellation of domestic flights, if any, will only be made consequent upon technical reasons or force majeure circumstances. It may also be noted that flight cancellations on the pretext of technical reasons will only be allowed subject to its confirmation from our airworthiness directorate,” it said.

The regulator also directed the airlines to submit an undertaking certifying that international charter operations would not be conducted at the expense of scheduled domestic flights operations.

“Commercial interests in operating international flight operations may be enticing in the current times but it is the duty of Pakistan’s CAA to uphold the spirit of public convenience and necessity. In the same connection, an adequate balance between domestic flight operations and international flight operations is mandatory which does not only follow along the vision contained in the National Aviation Policy, 2019 but also allows the airline operators to fulfil the obligations towards our travelling public,” it stated.

The airlines were not immediately available for comment.