KARACHI: AirBlue’s flight operations remained disturbed last week after two of its planes were taken off the fleet on technical grounds, leaving passengers with fewer options to fly and competition with additional customer demand and a chance to make some hay in the process.
Many customers are experiencing Serene Air for the first time because of a lack of choice as AirBlue, last week, reduced operations on key routes of Lahore and Islamabad. This additional demand also gave the newbie Serene Air some cushion to sell tickets at higher prices due to higher occupancy rates and make some hay in an otherwise competitive aviation market, Pakistan Today has learnt.
“Yes, some of their [AirBlue’s] traffic load is coming to us. This was obvious because they suspended several flights on the same routes where we operate,” said a sales official from Serene Air, which commenced operations in January 2017. “We are a new airline with new aircrafts and quality service, which helps,” he said.
Earlier, AirBlue had to ground two of its planes for maintenance and suspend some flights, reducing its local operations between Karachi and Islamabad from two daily flights to only two per week. On Karachi-Lahore route, the number of flights was halved to only one flight per day.
“Some security checks are being performed on our planes, including three which are newly bought,” a customer relations officer said, adding the operations will be normal after February 15.
With three daily flights to Islamabad and two to Lahore, Serene Air stepped in to cash in on the opportunity as the state-owned PIA, which offers more flights in these routes, remained mostly sold-out, restricting competition for the additional traffic mainly to Serene and Shaheen.
Smallest of the top three domestic operators, AirBlue has 14 per cent share in the country’s domestic passenger market as of June 30, 2016, according to Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) – the sector’s regulatory body. The state-owned PIA led the market with 62 per cent share followed by Shaheen Air that accounted for nearly a quarter of the pie in the same period.
Maintenance due to a bird hit or other accidents is a normal practice in the aviation sector, which follows rigorous safety standards because of the nature of its operations. For example, Serene Air, too, grounded one of its planes immediately after it had met a small accident at Islamabad Airport in February last year.
However, the development at AirBlue comes at a time when the passenger traffic is increasing and the size of the market is growing at a rate higher than the international average. In other words, if one operator misses on the opportunity, others will cash in because of growing competition, and the latest news on aviation front suggests the competition will only intensify.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA), a global trade association with 280 airlines under its umbrella, forecasts Pakistan’s aviation industry to grow by up to 9 per cent, per year through 2020 – enough to lure five new airlines that are said to be in the process to commence operations in Pakistan this year.
As per recent news, the increased competition in the sector has kept prices under check, which is why more people are opting for air travel. On the other hand, airlines are expanding their fleet and operations to cater to the increasing demand.
With AirBlue likely to take another week before going back to full capacity, competition is likely to make most of the opportunity.
“We are working on it [fixing the planes] and operations will normalize in a week or so, depending upon clearance from the regulator,” AirBlue Managing Director (MD) Junaid Khan told Pakistan Today. The MD said, “Once the planes are fixed, the airline will seek approval from the regulator and they will be added back to the fleet.”