Though international flight restrictions were eased in Pakistan on Saturday, stranded Pakistanis are still waiting for tickets to be available - as airlines are yet to receive approvals for special flights, sources said.
Aviation sources said more special flights from the UAE and other Gulf countries are expected to start this week, but only after they receive approvals from the authorities.
As many as five special flights were set to take off on Saturday, as per the schedule announced by Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development. Pakistan International Airlines was scheduled to depart for Karachi, Peshawar and Faisalabad, while two UAE airlines were due to fly for Islamabad and Karachi.
"It's a welcome step that Pakistan has opened its airspace, but other countries still have restrictions on international flights. There will be a gradual resumption of flight operations to Pakistan, and the airlines may take couple of days to announce their flight schedules," airline officials said.
More than 80,000 stranded Pakistanis in the UAE have registered for repatriation in the country's diplomatic missions.
When the resumption of international flight operations was announced, Pakistan's Ministry of Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development confirmed that travellers will be able to buy tickets directly from the airlines. They no longer have to wait for a call from the consulate and embassy.
PM vows to facilitate repatriation
Pakistan's Prime Minister Imran Khan on Saturday said the country is ready to welcome more of its citizens back home, assuring that his government will help in the repatriation 'in every way'.
"Tomorrow, we will partially open airspace for international flights. This is being done specially to help our overseas workers who have suffered the most in this pandemic but have shown great courage and made us proud. We welcome you back home and our government will facilitate you in every way," Khan said in a tweet on Saturday morning.
Sources in Pakistan's aviation industry have said that initially, "the international flights will operate from Gulf countries and, at a later stage, other airlines will be allowed to repatriate stranded Pakistanis through normal flight operations".
In a series of tweets late Friday, Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority said the permission for international flights shall be subject to applicable restrictions and limitations in light of the current Covid-19 scenario.
"All standard operating procedures shall be mandatory for all airline operators," the Civil Aviation Authority said in a tweet late on Friday.
Airlines awaiting approvals
Faisal Hussain Awan, founder and CEO of Dubai-based Al Ghazi Travel and Tourism, said travel agents have not yet been informed about bookings for flights to Pakistan.
"No airline has informed us to start booking for the Pakistani sector as there is no clarity yet. People are approaching us but we are helpless unless we are allowed to start booking," Awan told Khaleej Times.
Abbas Raza Dar, country manager of Pakistan's second-largest airline Airblue, said they are ready to operate seven special flights every week starting June 22, once it secured approvals from authorities.
"It is subject to regulatory approvals from the authorities," Dar told Khaleej Times on Saturday.
"Airblue will be operating its A321 aircraft for a daily flight to Pakistan to facilitate up to 160 stranded passengers in the UAE."
Dr Moeed Yusuf, special assistant to Pakistan Prime Minister on National Security, said on Wednesday that International flights shall resume at 25 per cent capacity from Saturday, June 20.
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