KARACHI: Nasair, a low-cost airline of Saudi Arabia, has launched operations to Pakistan in a bid to tap the lucrative aviation market from where hundreds of thousands of passengers travel to Saudi Arabia for pilgrimage and employment purposes every year.
The first flight of the new private budget carrier of Saudi Arabia reached Karachi from Riyadh on Saturday, making the city the 19th international destination of the airline. It intends to begin flights to other major cities of Pakistan including Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar in coming months to grab a sizeable share of the market.
Industry officials believe that the entry of a low-cost carrier into the local market will spark healthy competition among airlines, which will not only improve service quality but will also lead to reduction in fares.
Speaking at the launching ceremony Nasair Director Sales Turki Al Jawini said “after studying the Pakistani market we recognised the growth potential.”
Highlighting its target market in Pakistan, Al Jawini said over 0.2 million Pakistani pilgrims travel to Saudi Arabia every year and these were the airline’s target.
Recognising growing ties between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia and importance of Karachi as a regional hub, the airline decided to enter the Pakistani market. “We assessed the growing number of passengers and hence we are announcing our 19th and 20th international destinations – Karachi and Lahore,” he said.
Chief Executive Marhaba Aviation Services, which would look after operations of Nasair in Pakistan, Maqsood A Latifi said the launch of Nasair would increase competition among national and international airlines.Latifi said the state airline had monopoly over this market which was going to be affected with the operations of Nasair.
Nasair set the introductory fare at 499 Saudi riyal (Rs11,477) inclusive of all taxes, which was less than one-fourth of PIA fare which ranged between Rs55,000 (Karachi to Saudi Arabia) and Rs65,000 (Islamabad to Saudi Arabia).
The only private carrier of Pakistan that operates on Saudi Arabian routes is Shaheen Air, but it does not fly to Jeddah and Riyadh. It operates only on Islamabad to Dammam and Dammam to Karachi routes.
Travel Agents Association of Pakistan (TAAP) Chairman Muhammad Yahya Polani said the launch of Nasair would spark cutthroat competition among airlines and this would further grow as another budget carrier was expected to make inroads into the Pakistani market.
Around 5.7 million people travel from PIA every year, of which 0.8 million travel to Saudi Arabia, which comes to 14 per cent of the total. Total number of travellers between Pakistan and Saudi Arabia is around 1.6 million annually.