Pakistanis and the Pakistani diaspora have been screaming for direct flights to the US since PIA closed operations in October 2017. PIA was working to meet the demand and finally, it looks like it will be happening very soon.
Pakistan International Airlines has invited the Transport Security Administration (TSA) team of USA to have Islamabad Airport security cleared for direct operations to the US. They will be arriving in Islamabad on July 17 & 18th, 2019.
What will this mean for the overseas Pakistanis? A direct flight, only a 16 hours journey, without the hassle of hours and hours of layovers at airports and the hassle of changing terminals. Currently, passengers have to use other airlines that make a stop at their hubs, resulting in some flights taking more than 24 hours to reach the US.
In the past, none of the Pakistani airports were cleared by TSA, which is why PIA had to use mid-point TSA cleared airports at Manchester or Barcelona to fly to the US. This increased the operating costs and PIA had to suspend flights to the USA a year and a half ago.
With the New Islamabad International Airport and beefed up security apparatus at Islamabad (shifting resources from other parts of the country), PIA will be working with TSA to get clearance for New Islamabad Airport to start direct operations to the US.
There is a lot of pressure on PIA from the Pakistani origin citizens, families, especially the elderly to start this direct route and PIA is listening to them.
Inside sources in PIA have shared that the management is working closely and actively with the US Embassy in Islamabad and US Consul General of Karachi to coordinate the TSA team’s visit to Pakistan.
The US departments have helped in the speedy inspection and restoring direct flights between the two countries. This surely is an indication of improving bilateral ties and a key step in confidence-building measures.
It is worth mentioning here that a French team representing the travel authorities also inspected CAA, ASF and PIA facilities and security procedures at Islamabad. They could not come up with a single observation for PIA, proving that it is complying with international standards.
Similarly, the Department of Transport of UK has cleared Sialkot PIA Operations with a three-year license, a show of confidence because normally they have issued only two-year clearances before.
PIA had been operating to the US since 1961, the first carrier of the region to connect the USA with Mainland China and the Far East.
In fact PIA ordered Boeing 777 LRs (Long Range) aircraft in the late 90s to fly directly on this route, however, with post 9/11 security situation and security infrastructure at Pakistani airports, PIA was not allowed to operate directly resulting in heavy losses to the national airline.
With the TSA visit just around the corner, it looks like PIA will be reopening the direct flight to the USA very soon.