KARACHI: After reprioritising international routes, in accordance with changing traffic patterns, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has closed the Japan route.
The national flag carrier flew twice a week from Karachi/Islamabad to Tokyo via Beijing. “The route had historical significance, as it started in the 1960s,” Pakistani businessman in Japan Shahid Aziz told The Express Tribune.
He said the Pakistani community in Japan, estimated at around 30,000 people, also had an attachment and preferred to travel through it as it was their motherland’s national airline.
PIA, which used to operate A310 aircraft on the route, had 200 seats and is grounded, has directed a new aircraft 777 with a capacity of more than 300 passengers.
Although PIA finds the required passengers for the flight to Beijing, it loses them on the connecting flight – from Beijing to Tokyo. The last flight took only about 80 people on the Beijing-Tokyo route, so the rest of the airplane was empty, whereas, airplanes on average operate on 80% occupancy rate.
On average, PIA got 75 passengers on Beijing-Tokyo route, having occupancy rate of just 25%, while the remaining 75% was vacant.
After the fall of Shaheen Air International (SAI), PIA had a 100% customer base, so shutting down was the only solution.
“We decided to close the route with deep reluctance as it was one of the oldest routes of PIA,” said spokesperson Mashhood Tajwar.
From Beijing, PIA was only allowed to take 80 passengers owing to the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASA) with the Japanese government, according to which PIA could not fly with more than the earlier decided number of passengers.
BASA is signed between two governments and can be changed with the consent of both parties but can take a long time.
Beijing to Tokyo is the same length flight as the Islamabad to Beijing route, so the national airline lost more than Rs300 million every year.
There was also a hidden price that the airline had to bear, which included booking 25 hotel rooms for the cabin crew for every flight. It had to change the crew in Beijing. PIA used to lose 12 to 15 hours on this route, said the spokesperson.
The national airline was also incurring an opportunity cost as it has a huge demand on Jeddah route from the people who go to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage, Hajj and Umrah.
PIA can carry more passengers there with spare airplanes from the Japan route, he said, adding the administration is mulling over increasing flights on the Jeddah route.
PIA may pursue an offline business on the Japan route – taking passengers to Beijing through other airlines and then from Beijing to Islamabad or Karachi through PIA, added the spokesperson