Virgin Atlantic to begin Islamabad and Lahore flights

By: News Desk      Published: 05:26 PM, 27 Aug, 2020
Virgin Atlantic to begin Islamabad and Lahore flights

Virgin Atlantic on Thursday announced that it will launch non-stop service to Pakistan from both Heathrow and Manchester on what looks to be a permanent basis:

* Heathrow – Lahore is expected to be four-weekly

* Heathrow – Islamabad three-weekly

* Manchester – Islamabad four-weekly

The core reason for launching these flights now is the temporary absence of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) because of its EU ban until next year, which has created a clear and large gap.

After all, PIA had 95 percent of the UK–Pakistan non-stop and one-stop market last year, Official Airline Guide (OAG) Schedules data indicates, excluding sixth freedom operators.

After a long absence, British Airways began Heathrow–Islamabad service in June last year on a three-weekly basis using 214-seat B787-8s. The carrier resumed this route earlier this month.

  Virgin Atlantic Pakistan routes the top-three, excluding Birmingham

Islamabad–Manchester was the largest route between the two countries last year, OAG data indicates, with almost three in ten seats.

Islamabad is by far the top Pakistani city to the UK, responsible as it is for 70 percent of total capacity.

Based on last year’s non-stop and one-stop routes from the UK to Pakistan, as shown below, it is not hard to see why Virgin has chosen the routes it has.

On a passenger basis, it’s interesting to note that PIA’s total wasn’t much lower than those carried by sixth freedom operators, with the top-five Emirates (with an estimated 224,000), Qatar Airways (167,000), Etihad (58,000), Turkish Airlines (55,000), and Oman Air (39,000).

 Strong VFR demand, but reflected in fares

As UK to Pakistan is so heavily driven by visiting friends and relatives demand, fares are not particularly high. This reflects a higher proportion of economy passengers. Freight will help to offset it.

Using booking data via OAG Traffic Analyser, Heathrow–Islamabad had an average one-way fare of $253 last year. This excludes a 20-30 percent fuel surcharge (kept by the airline) and taxes. 

Heathrow–Delhi, by contrast, is 11 percent farther yet achieved a 25 percent higher average fare from a stronger mix of traffic. 

In comparison to Heathrow–Islamabad, Heathrow–Lahore had $260 and Manchester–Islamabad $254, booking data shows.