–PM Abbasi inaugurates country’s first greenfield airport designed to facilitate 25 million passengers annually
–PM says govt sticking to ‘liberal, open sky scheme’ despite criticism, hopes new airport will usher in new era of business and development
ISLAMABAD: Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi officially inaugurated the new Islamabad International Airport (IIA) on Tuesday, the first greenfield airport of Pakistan destined to emerge as one of Asia’s major aviation hubs after its operationalisation.
A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flight, PK-300, landed at the airport as part of its inauguration ceremony.
The plan to construct a new airport in the federal capital had been conceived in 1980 but work on the international-standard greenfield airport hit a number of delays over the years. The Y-shaped airport is located 20 kilometres from Zero Point Islamabad and over 25km from Saddar, Rawalpindi, and is set to be the largest airport in the country, designed to facilitate 15 million passengers annually in the first phase, which will increase to 25 million after its expansion.
The national flag carrier’s second commercial flight PK-301 took off for Karachi at around 12:30pm.
The inauguration was initially supposed to take place on April 20 but it was delayed until May 3 due to certain technical problems and security issues.
ABBASI GIVES HIS GOVT A PAT ON THE BACK:
Speaking at the inauguration ceremony, Abbasi lauded the efforts of Sardar Mehtab, Irfan Illahi and Air Marshal Salam and other officials for their efforts to complete the airport project.
“Nothing is impossible, but this [constructing this airport] seemed like it was,” the prime minister said. “But we have managed to complete this project as well.”
He further said that although Pakistan’s “liberal, open sky scheme” has been criticised, the policy has been kept in place because the government believes that the “passengers should have choices”.
“Aviation is a challenging, dynamic field. It keeps changing rapidly and if we don’t change ourselves we will be left behind,” he stressed.
“It is very easy to criticise and hurl accusations,” he said, adding that those in government have to deal with challenges unknown to critics.
“Aviation is a key component of China-Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC),” he said, adding that flying is no more a luxury but a necessity.
The premier said that he hoped that the new airport will be a source of development for the area and will help in bringing trade and employment opportunities for the people of the region. The prime minister also said that the development largely depended on the continuation of the democratic process and the supremacy of law in the country.
“The one and only reason Pakistan strayed from the path of development in the past was that democracy was derailed in the country,” he said.
“We saw certain timely benefits in dictatorships, but no nation has ever succeeded without democracy,” he added.
PM Abbasi said that Pakistan Muslim League-Nawaz (PML-N) not only starts projects but also completes them. “This government took the country when the growth was only 3 per cent and we are ending up with 6 per cent growth,” he said.
The prime minister also lauded the achievements of disqualified premier Nawaz Sharif, saying, “Sharif completed projects which are incomparable, be it related to gas, infrastructure, energy or roads. This airport did not even have a plan for an access road in 2013 but now we have completed it.”
Full flight operations will be shifted to the new airport on May 3. All commercial and VIP flights from Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) will be moved to the new airport. International carriers, including Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways, Thai Airways, China Airlines, Oman Air, Etihad Airways, Saudi Airways, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways and Turkish Airlines, operate flights to and from Islamabad along with PIA, Shaheen Air and Air Blue.
Prior to the inauguration, the Pakistan Air Force had assisted the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) for smooth and safe conduct of operations at the new airport.
A C-130 flight with passengers and luggage on board had landed at the newly constructed runway on Friday to assess its instrument landing pattern and the quality of the landing strip.
Earlier, PAF aircraft, including the lightweight super Mushshak trainer and Hercules transport aircraft, had also landed at the runway. Moreover, PAF has also established an air traffic control squadron manned by qualified controllers to ensure the smooth air traffic flow at the airport.
Reaching a decision over a final name of the airport proved to be a major challenge for the authorities.
On April 20, former Senate chairman Raza Rabbani, after hearing that that an adviser to the prime minister has announced that Benazir Bhutto International Airport would be named Islamabad International Airport, in a letter urged the government to reconsider its decision and “withdraw this uncalled for and inappropriate decision”.
However, the official name of the airport had not been decided until last week after the prime minister rejected three names that had been proposed by Nawaz Sharif-constituted ministerial committee for Islamabad’s new airport.
THE AIRPORT ITSELF:
The new Islamabad airport is equipped with cutting-edge technology and state-of-the-art facilities for passengers. Spanning over 4,238 acres of land, the airport consists of a four-level passenger terminal building, two runways, taxiways, apron and parking bays for wide-body aircraft.
It is capable of serving nine million passengers and 50,000 metric ton of cargo every year in its first phase, while the modular design enables expansion to serve up to 25 million passengers every year by 2025.
The airport was initially conceived in 1984 and land was acquired in Fateh Jang the same year to cater to the need of increasing passenger load at Benazir Bhutto International Airport.
Constructed at a cost of more than Rs100 billion, the airport is connected to the twin cities of Rawalpindi and Islamabad via the Kashmir Highway and the motorway via the Thallian interchange. A four-lane highway has also been constructed by the National Highway Authority (NHA) to cater to cargo traffic.
Full flight operations will be shifted to the new airport on May 3. All commercial and VIP flights from Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) will be moved to the new airport.