International Airport Islamabad, Pakistan
More flights, sure, but will that be enough to stop the steady rise in UAE-Pakistan rates? Image Credit: Supplied

Dubai: Even as Pakistan allows more international flights into the country, fares on the UAE route are firming up by the day, according to industry sources.

It was just last week that Pakistan’s National Command and Operation Centre (NCOC) said it would restore inbound air traffic at full capacity from November 10 in view of “mass vaccination undertaken by various countries and a downward trend in all COVID-19 indicators across the globe”.

While simple economics suggests that more flights will lead to lower fares, this is not necessarily the case here. An official from Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said the decision, which applies to all flights operating on the route, will not have an immediate impact on fares.

“Fares may see a 15-20 per cent reduction in a few months, but not within a fortnight.”

Passenger traffic will not see an immediate boost either. “Pakistan had followed an incremental step-based approach for opening up air traffic,” the official added. “But ticket prices and oil prices in general are major determinants of air traffic.

“Given the fact that ticket prices have been jacked up, I don't think there will be considerable increase in outbound as well as inbound air traffic.”

Dh2-6K


What it costs for a seat between Karachi and Dubai

Oil spike

Ticket prices, already higher due to fewer flights, may even go up further due to rising oil prices. “The issue that’s going to impact on fares in the short-to-medium term will be the high price of oil which continues to remain stubbornly high,” said Willie Walsh, IATA’s Director-General, during a media briefing last week.

Brent crude prices have nearly doubled to $83 a barrel over the last 12 months amid the global roll-out of COVID-19 vaccines, which has resulted in the lifting of movement curbs.

No flights planned

Dubai’s Emirates airline, which operates flights to all major Pakistani cities, said it does not plan to add more flights on the route for now. “Our operations to Pakistan remain as per schedule,” said an airline spokesperson. Abu Dhabi’s Etihad Airways did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Airlines capitalize

A flight from Karachi, Pakistan’s most populous city, to Dubai can cost Dh2,000 to Dh6,000 right now, compared to Dh,1000-Dh1,500 earlier. A flight from Lahore to Dubai can be Dh7,600 a seat, while flights to Islamabad are Dh4,000 or more.

“The tickets are expensive because all the losses that were incurred by the airlines are now being taken into account and they're trying to bring up their revenues,” said Fahad Masood, a Pakistan-based aviation analyst. “There will be a lot of money that they will charge the passengers for a short trip, especially on flights from Pakistan to the Middle East.”

Masood said that a return flight from Doha to Pakistan costs around 200,000 (Pakistani) rupees (Dh4,300) right now, compared to pre-COVID fares of 80,000-90,000 rupees (Dh1,700-Dh1,900).

The move to restore capacity “will not give any respite to the passengers, but it will certainly enable things to open up,” said Masood.

Adding more routes

Meanwhile, Pakistani airlines have been launching new routes to UAE since the months-long travel ban was completely lifted early September. The country’s largest low-cost airline Airblue started a service from Ras Al Khaimah to Lahore as demand from the passengers surged after visa and travel restrictions were eased by the UAE authorities. Airblue was last operating more than 40 plus weekly flights to major cities of Pakistan from Abu Dhabi, Dubai and Sharjah.

Recently, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) began operating flights to Fujairah to meet the surge in demand for travel to UAE as the country hosts the T20 Cricket World Cup and Expo 2020. PIA has been operating flights from all major Pakistan cities to Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Sharjah.

The airline has seven weekly flights between Islamabad and Dubai, and five flights connecting Peshawar to Dubai every week. Sharjah, the hub of choice for several South Asian carriers, sees frequent flights from Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar, Sialkot and Turbat.

Saudi flights

Although Saudi Arabia has opened its border, Pakistan is still on the list of countries banned for entry. Only fully vaccinated residents, diplomats, Saudi citizens, medical practitioners and their families are allowed to enter the Kingdom.

This has caused widespread confusion among expats and frequent travelers who have taken to social media with their enquiries. “When will direct flights from Pakistan to Saudi Arabia open for family visitor visa holders?” asked a user on Twitter.

Rising vaccination rates

Signs are growing that Pakistan has brought the pandemic situation under control. According to a recent report from the country’s regulator, half the eligible population of the biggest province of Pakistan, Punjab, are vaccinated.

“Punjab becomes the first province to have more than half of its eligible population inoculated with COVID-19 vaccine,” said Asad Umar, Chairman of the NCOC, Federal Minister for Planning, Development and Special Initiative, in a tweet last week. “Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP) follows with 48 per cent, Sindh 40 per cent and Balochistan at 17 per cent.”