ISLAMABAD: With hundreds of locals and tourists planning to travel to Gilgit Baltistan in spring and summer holidays, Pakistan International Airline (PIA) has reduced almost half of regular flights to the area for unknown reasons.
The airline, which normally flies each one flight to Gilgit and Skardu daily from Islamabad. The reduction in routine flights has been made at a time when thousands of locals who shift to lower parts of the country during harsh winter season are about to return to their native areas.
Besides the tourists, who had already booked flights during March and April are also being told to reschedule their visits to the mountainous region following the cut in flights, Zulfiqar Shigri a travel agent in Skardu informed this scribe.
“Instead of increasing the number of flights keeping in view the rush in Islamabad, PIA has surpassingly decreased the number of flights to Skardu by over 50 percent. There are hardly 12 to 15 daily flights scheduled between Islamabad to Skardu in March and April 2023,” he said adding that following the limited flights available on this route PIA has also raised the fare to over Rs 25,000.
An official however claimed that the ATR service to Gilgit has not been affected by the shortage of pilots. However the services of larger flights (Boeing) to Skardu are affected by the fresh developments.
“In the absence of air travel, buses and car service providers have also started charging inflated fares. Buses are charging around Rs 5,000 while cars charge Rs 12,000 to Rs 15,000 per passenger for traveling between Rawalpindi and Skardu,” said Z.A Agha owner of a travel service at Pirwadhai Bus Stand, in Rawalpindi.
According to sources, the reduction in flights has been made following the resignation of dozens of pilots of PIA. The resignations had come after PIA announced a 35% cut in salaries, prompting outrage among the pilots and their representative organization, the Pakistan Airline Pilots Association (PALPA).
As per reports private airlines are paying Rs. 9 lacs to the first officers and Rs. 16 to 18 lacs to the captain, which the organization argues is not enough to sustain a decent living. According to PALPA the salaries of PIA’s most senior captains are close to Rs. 7 lacs. As a result, more pilots are ready to quit, putting further pressure on the already beleaguered airline. Interestingly, as per PALPA officials, these are the same pilots whose names were on the list of 262 fake licenses.
When contacted, Abdullah Hafeez, Spokesman of PIA claimed that the number of flights would start increasing soon. He claimed that the number of passengers increases one side in different seasons which ultimately affect the flights.
As per the spokesman, the flight operation to GB may also be started from other destinations like Lahore and Karachi in case the demands go up in summer season. He claims the tourist flow would increase after the holy month of Ramazan.