Pakistan has allowed outbound international flights to resume, after the country largely closed its airports to scheduled commercial passenger flights from March to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

Pakistan’s civil aviation authority (CAAP) on May 29 said as per a decision of the Federal Government, outbound international flights (scheduled, non scheduled and charter flights) were allowed with effect from 0000L (1900Z), May 30.

“Both national and foreign airlines shall be allowed to operate from all international airports of Pakistan with exception of Gwadar and Sukkur. SOPs [standard operating procedures] for outbound international flights have already been issued according to which airlines will be required to follow the SOPs of the destination country. Additionally, disinfection of aircraft will be ensured, and no congestion at airports shall be allowed,” the CAAP said.

Abdul Sattar Khokhar, senior joint secretary at the civil aviation authority, said in a statement that airlines may carry passengers from Pakistan to international destinations. Still, flights to Pakistan could carry cargo but not passengers.

Upon arrival from international flights, everyone on board will be screened and quarantined for 24 hours and then tested for coronavirus.

On May 29, the CAAP issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) which said: “The restrictions on inbound passengers operation into Pakistan shall continue. However, special permission is required from government of Pakistan for national [and] foreign carriers and charter operations for flights with inbound passengers on case to case basis.”

“Additionally, diplomatic, special and cargo flights to and from Pakistan shall also be permitted,” the notice to airmen said.

However, given the restrictions imposed, Pakistan’s major scheduled carriers PIA - Pakistan International Airlines, AirBlue, and Serene Air have yet to embrace this latest development. Flag carrier PIA only resumed domestic operations in mid-May and continues to fly after a deadly crash on May 22 that killed 97 out of 99 passengers and crew on board. AirBlue said it would be in the skies again soon, but has not indicated when. Serene Air on May 31 said it is the only private airline to operate during the coronavirus pandemic, with 17 flights for June. It had been operating sporadically during the lockdown, FlightRadar24 data shows.

The resumption of international flights comes as Pakistan eases its lockdown measures even though its number of coronavirus infections has increased, with more than 72,000 cases recorded, according to Pakistan Government statistics.

Domestic flights resumed in mid-May, with the CAAP on May 15 announcing restricted domestic scheduled and charter passenger flight operations between Karachi Int'l, Lahore Int'l, Islamabad Quaid-e-Azam Int'l, Peshawar and Quetta in addition to the already approved flight operations from Islamabad to Gilgit and Skardu airports.

Editorial Comment: Adjusted reference for Islamabad's airport from defunct Benazir Bhutto International to Quaid-e-Azam International. - 02.06.2020 - 05:29 UTC