United Arab Emirates (UAE) low-cost carrier Air Arabia is to introduce a third destination in Pakistan to its expanding network with the introduction of flights to Sialkot, located in the north east of the Punjab province of the country approximately 125km north of Lahore, Pakistan’s second largest city. The budget carrier will offer a daily schedule on the new route between Sharjah and Sialkot with effect from January 10, 2013.
Air Arabia made its debut in Pakistan in May 2007 when it inaugurated non-stop flights between its Sharjah International Airport base and Jinnah International Airport in Karachi and Bacha Khan International Airport in Peshawar. It has been operating four flights a week on the Karachi route and three on the link to Peshawar but has recently announced plans to introduce a daily schedule to both destinations.
“Since launching operations to Pakistan, it has always been a market of focus for us, and the launch of additional services is a result of increasing customer demand from the market,” said Adel Ali, Chief Executive Officer, Air Arabia. “The ever growing appeal for Air Arabia flights, underpinned by the value for money services, signals that Air Arabia continues to be the airline of choice for thousands of passengers who travels between Pakistan and the UAE.”
The introduction of Sialkot to its network and the frequency growth on its existing routes will mean Air Arabia will be offering 21 flights a week into Pakistan from next year. In 2011 an estimated 2.33 million O&D passengers flew between Pakistan and UAE, with Air Arabia accounting for a 2.3 per cent share in a market dominated by Pakistan International Airlines (32.4 per cent), Air Blue (24.1 per cent) and Emirates Airline (18.3 per cent).
Sialkot is a major export hub for Pakistan and after Karachi is Pakistan's second largest source of foreign exchange earnings. The per capita income of Sialkot is ranked among the highest in Pakistan but air services from Sialkot International Airport are limited. National carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) introduced flights to Sialkot in November 2007 with a link from Karachi. It now offers domestic links to Islamabad, Karachi and Peshawar as well as international flights to Jeddah, Kuwait, Muscat and Riyadh
PIA and Shaheen Air International already provide services on the Sialkot – Sharjah route. Shaheen Air introduced flights in September 2009 and PIA followed in February 2010. They currently offer just three and two weekly rotations, respectively, meaning the arrival of Air Arabia will mark a notable capacity upgrade. In the first nine months of 2012 an estimated 32,000 O&D passengers flew between Sialkot and Sharjah, down 24.8 per cent on the same period last year.
Alongside the local catchment (the city has an estimated population of around 500,000 people), Air Arabia is expected to use Sialkot as an alternative option for passengers travelling to Lahore. The airport is the first privately-owned public airport in Pakistan and is home to the country’s longest runway at 3,600m.
“The launch of our regular Sialkot service is a continuation of Air Arabia’s promise to offer value for money fares to multiple destinations in Pakistan,” said Adel Ali. “The new service to Sialkot further contributes to the travel needs between Pakistan and the UAE. That being said, we look forward to developing our services to reach more destinations in Pakistan.”