Virgin Atlantic to begin Islamabad and Lahore from big gap left by PIA
Virgin Atlantic has today (27 August) announced that it will launch non-stop service to Pakistan from both Heathrow and Manchester on what looks to be a permanent basis.
Three routes are expected to begin in December:
- Heathrow – Lahore is expected to be four-weekly
- Heathrow – Islamabad three-weekly
- Manchester – Islamabad four-weekly
The core reason for launching these now is the temporary absence of Pakistan International because of its EU ban until next year, which has created a clear and large gap.
After all, PIA had 95% of the UK – Pakistan non-stop and one-stop market last year, OAG Schedules data indicates, excluding sixth freedom operators.
After a long absence, British Airways began Heathrow – Islamabad in June last year on a three-weekly basis using 214-seat B787-8s. The carrier resumed this route earlier this month.
OAG Traffic Analyser, using MIDT booking data, estimates that BA had an 87% seat load factor on Heathrow – Islamabad between June 2019 and February this year.
Those connecting over Heathrow amounted to 38%, it found. Europe was the number-one source, mainly from across the UK, although North America wasn’t far behind.
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% 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).
|O&D||Total seats last year||Airline and weekly frequency based on 13 August 2019|
|Islamabad – Manchester||233,707||PIA (7)|
|Islamabad – Heathrow||213,714||PIA (5), BA (3)|
|Islamabad – Birmingham||114,200||PIA (3)|
|Lahore – Heathrow||106,114||PIA (3)|
|Manchester – Lahore||70,031||PIA (2)|
|Karachi – Heathrow||57,308||PIA (2)|
|Sialkot – Heathrow||10,976||0 as began in September|
|Source: OAG Schedules Analyser.|
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 USD$253 last year. This excludes a 20-30% fuel surcharge (kept by the airline) and taxes.
Heathrow – Delhi, by contrast, is 11% farther yet achieved a 25% 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.