Virgin Atlantic has announced it is launching three new routes to Pakistan in December 2020.
Both Heathrow and Manchester will gain new flights to Islamabad whilst Heathrow will also see the introduction of a service to Lahore. Virgin Atlantic will be the only airline offering direct flights to Lahore from Heathrow.
The exact schedules and frequencies have not yet been announced. The new services will go on sale in September.
Pakistan has seen an increase in flights from the UK in recent years, with British Airways returning to Islamabad last year after a ten year hiatus.
The route hasn’t been without its challenges, however. Pakistan International Airways was recently blocked from flying to EU and UK airspace after it was found that over 30% of its pilots held fraudulent licences.
It recently re-launched services to Birmingham, London and Manchester by wet leasing an aircraft from Hi-Fly. This meant that PIA did not have to use its own pilots or crew.
Whilst launching three routes at once to Pakistan may seem an aggressive move, there a few reasons why Virgin Atlantic may have decided to do so:
- It genuinely thinks there is enough demand between the UK and Pakistan for three airlines to offer direct services in addition to connecting airlines such as Emirates. People of Pakistani descent make up the second largest ethnic minority population in the UK.
- It thinks it can capitalise on PIA’s shaky reputation
- It is attempting to diversify its route network away from the US, which is likely to remain closed to foreign nationals for some time
- It believes there is enough cargo demand to make this route worthwhile and any passenger bookings are simply the icing on the cake
It is likely that Virgin Atlantic saw an opportunity based on a combination of these factors, and also has its fingers crossed. Let’s see how it goes.