International Airport Islamabad, Pakistan
The Islamabad Airport can serve 9 million passengers and 50,000 metric tonnes of cargo annually.

Dubai: A deal to transfer operational control of Islamabad International Airport to Qatar is “highly likely,” said a source familiar with the discussions. The Qatar Investment Authority aims to invest $3 billion in Pakistan as the South Asian country goes through a balance of payments crisis.

“It is highly likely that the federal government would hand over administrative affairs of the Islamabad International Airport to Qatar whereas a Qatari company would provide the relevant services of the airport’s terminal and air cargo with enormous growth potential,” said the source.

The Islamabad airport, located 30 kilometers from the capital, began operations in 2018 after encountering repeated delays. It can serve 9 million passengers per year and 50,000 metric tonnes of cargo.

The sale of a 51 per cent stake in PIA-owned Roosevelt Hotel in New York will be ‘highly likely’ as well, the person added. There were earlier reports that Pakistan could offer a majority stake in its struggling flagship carrier to Qatar. The source said that Qatar had expressed its interest in only the airport and hotel sectors.

“Buying a majority stake in a loss-generating airline with a poor reputation doesn’t align with Qatar Airways’ overall expansion strategy on a global scale,” said the person. “It would also harm Qatar Airways’ global image as a premium carrier.”

PIA was banned by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) in 2020 after the emergence of a scandal concerning fraudulent pilots’ licenses. Despite a recovery in global air travel demand, the airline’s 2021 loss widened by about 16 billion rupees (Dh273.5m), compared to 2020.

Qatar Airways, which relies solely on international traffic like other Gulf carriers, reported a full-year 2021 profit, reversing a trend of annual losses since 2018. The airline made a profit of 5.6 billion riyals ($1.5 billion) in the year to March 31, compared to a year-ago loss of 14.8 billion riyals.