Pakistan’s international seats +68% since 2010; domestic seats/population lower than Bangladesh

Pakistan’s international seats +68% since 2010; domestic seatspopulation lower than Bangladesh (2)

With a population of 216 million, Pakistan is the world’s fifth-largest country, sandwiched in size between Indonesia and Brazil. It is also large geographically, with an area bigger than Turkey.

Since 2014, Pakistan’s GDP growth has averaged 4.7%, dragged down by less than 2% last year.  The country’s average was the second-lowest in South Asia, with only Sri Lanka achieving lower growth.  Bangladesh (7.2%) and India (7.0%) performed strongly.

In 2019, total seats to, from, and within Pakistan amounted to 24.1 million, up by 53% –  or 7.4 million – over 2010, data from OAG indicates.

Pakistan’s international seats +68% since 2010; domestic seatspopulation lower than Bangladesh

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

Reasonable growth since 2010, but dragged down last year

Despite 7.4 million seats added since 2010, Pakistan’s capacity was down nearly 8% YOY in 2019, with a loss of two million seats. 

This decline was the result of a myriad of things, including the country’s struggling economic performance, PIA’s ongoing major problems, and the end of Shaheen Air in late 2018.

Shaheen Air was Pakistan’s third-largest operator in 2018, down from number-two in 2017, mainly as it ceased operating before the end of the year. 

The rise of SereneAir, which launched in 2017, has not been sufficient, with this carrier operating nine domestic routes with a fleet of just four B737-800s.

Last year was in many ways extraordinary, so perhaps not too much attention should be paid to it.

Pakistan’s international seats +68% since 2010; domestic seatspopulation lower than Bangladesh

Shaheen Air’s route network in 2018, the year it ceased operating. Source: OAG Mapper.

International market up 68%…

Pakistan’s international market increased by 68% between 2010 and 2019, with over eight million seats added. 

Pakistan’s own airlines were flat in 2019 versus 2010, with their share falling from 52% to 31% – the lowest in many years.

This decline, eliminating the growth from 2014-2017, was partly from Shaheen Air’s cessation.  In 2018, over seven in ten of Shaheen Air’s seats were deployed internationally, mainly to the core Pakistan markets of the UAE and Saudi Arabia.

Nor was it assisted by PIA’s international seats falling by over 800,000 – hopefully partly from it attempting to focus on profitable and marginal routes that could be improved.

PIA’s ban from the EU this year will obviously not help, with one-quarter of the operator’s international capacity to/from Europe. It has just been announced that its UK services will resume in August. 

Meanwhile, foreign airlines have inevitably strengthened their offerings, with their seats growing by 137% since 2010 – up over eight million. Foreign airlines were solely responsible for the country’s international growth in this period, with Saudia, Emirates, Qatar Airways, flydubai, and Air Arabia growing the most.

Saudia, which was already Pakistan’s leading airline at the start of the decade, added the most seats of all foreign airlines, cementing its position. Saudia had 14 routes to five Pakistani airports last year; with 555,000 seats, Jeddah – Lahore was its top route.

Pakistan’s international seats +68% since 2010; domestic seats population lower than Bangladesh

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

MEB3 share reduces despite growth

Like South Asia generally, Pakistan is the bread-and-butter of the MEB3: Emirates, Qatar Airways, and Etihad.   

Collectively, the MEB3 had 4.8 million seats to/from Pakistan last year, up by nearly three million since 2010.

Perhaps surprisingly, the MEB3 had ‘only’ 24% of total international seats last year, while their share of capacity by foreign airlines was unchanged at 35%. This was from reducing capacity in more recent years.

Pakistan’s international seats +68% since 2010; domestic seatspopulation lower than Bangladesh

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.

Last year, Emirates – the top MEB3 operator to Pakistan – cut Multan and reduced Karachi, Islamabad, and Sialkot, pushing its country capacity down to 2014 levels.  

Only Qatar Airways has increased seats recent years, especially from big growth to Islamabad and Lahore. This is despite it not being able to serve Saudi Arabia – a fundamentally important market from Pakistan – over Doha because of its ban.

Given the MEB3’s 4.8 million Pakistan seats last year, it is meaningful to look at their connecting traffic, with Pakistan – Saudi Arabia the top country market for both Emirates and Etihad by total passengers.

Emirates’ top Pakistan O&Ds Qatar Airways’ top Pakistan O&Ds Etihad’s top Pakistan O&Ds
O&D Est. 2019 passengers O&D Est. 2019 passengers O&D Est. 2019 passengers
Jeddah – Karachi 55,400 Lahore – London Heathrow 19,900 Islamabad – Jeddah 44,000
Karachi -London Heathrow 30,500 Kuwait – Lahore 18,900 Jeddah – Lahore 30,900
Jeddah – Sialkot 25,300 Islamabad -London Heathrow 17,400 Lahore – New York JFK 23,400
Jeddah – Lahore 24,000 Islamabad – Manchester 15,500 Islamabad -Manchester 18,500
Karachi -Medina 24,000 Lahore – Milan Malpensa 15,500 Islamabad – Riyadh 14,020
Birmingham -Islamabad 21,300 Kuwait – Sialkot 14,400 Islamabad – New York JFK 12,800
Karachi – Kuala Lumpur 21,200 Houston – Karachi 13,500 Jeddah – Karachi 12,300
Karachi – Toronto 20,500 Karachi – London Heathrow 13,100 Islamabad -London Heathrow 11,700
Glasgow – Lahore 19,700 Karachi – Najaf 12,600 Lahore -Manchester 9,700
Peshawar -Riyadh 18,100 Islamabad – Milan Malpensa 12,500 Lahore – London Heathrow 9,600
Note: estimated numbers. Source: OAG Traffic Analyser using MIDT data.

Pakistan’s domestic market woefully underexploited

Pakistan’s domestic market capacity declined by 16% in 2019 versus 2010.  

This pushed the percentage of domestic seats to total capacity to just 17% last year – a record low. See the first figure.

If available seats are divided by population, Pakistan does not perform well: it has just 0.12 seats per person. India, while also still very low, had 0.19.

Fundamentally, Pakistan performs poorly domestically: despite its large population, its tiny domestic volume of four million domestic seats means just 0.02 seats per person.  This is against India’s 0.12.

Bangladesh’s area is six times smaller than Pakistan’s and the two countries have similar GDPs per capita. Despite this, Bangladesh had a higher score domestically.

Like with neighbouring Iran, Pakistan should be a future aviation paradise. 

Pakistan’s international seats +68% since 2010; domestic seatspopulation lower than Bangladesh

Source: OAG Schedules Analyser and World Bank data.


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