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Air Indus Starts Local Pakistan Flights in Bid to Challenge PIA

Air Indus Pvt., the first Pakistani airline to start operations in almost a decade, plans to begin services to the Middle East next year, increasing competition for the loss-making Pakistan International Airlines Corp.

The carrier, which started operations July 28 with a flight to Pakistan’s capital Islamabad from its Karachi base, will seek to fly to countries including the United Arab Emirates, Malaysia and Thailand after the mandatory one year of domestic flights, Salman Ghazali, senior marketing manager at Air Indus, said by phone yesterday. The airline will initially offer two daily services each to Lahore and Islamabad and one to Quetta and plans to reach seven destinations next month.

The new airline joins Shaheen Air International Ltd. and Airblue Ltd. in competing for passengers in a market once dominated by the flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines, known as PIA. PIA, which has posted eight consecutive annual losses, has seen departures drop by about 10,000 in the last two years amid delays in upgrading an aging fleet, according to its latest annual report.

“Competition is great,” Sajid Habib, former deputy director general of Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, said by telephone. “Air Indus may get passengers and dent PIA’s operations if flights are on time.”

Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, who returned to power in May, aims to boost economic growth to 4.4 percent and keep inflation in single digits this fiscal year. The government reached agreement with the International Monetary Fund this month on a $5.3 billion loan to boost the nation’s depleted currency reserves and help stabilize its struggling economy.

Boeing Fleet

Air Indus operates a fleet of two Boeing Co. 737-300 and one 737-301 aircraft, according to its website. The aircraft offers 148 economy class seats on each flight.

“The response was better than our expectation,” Ghazali said about the airline’s first flight. “We had 90 people in the 148-seat plane. Our commercial load was full, some guests could not make it. The way people are booking and travel agents are calling means there is a good response.”

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