Articles of the year 2005

Airports Old & New
December 17th, 2005

I have been reading about the plans for the new Islamabad airport that will be built on the Peshawar road, and there are a few questions that come to mind immediately. It would seem that the present Islamabad Airport has been declared as under capacity and unable to handle the traffic that is using its facilities. Now we must examine whether it is the runways that are overloaded or the passenger handling facilities like baggage and immigration etc.

Regardless of any figures that may be put forward by the CAA authority, we have to just pass through Karachi Airport or Lahore airport to realize that the two are spectacular state of the art edifices built by Emperor Sharif, the only thing missing are the passengers, and the International planes jostling for parking spaces. In both instances the Airports have an air of emptiness and a forlorn look about them. There is no hustle and bustle which is the norm at any International airport. The Karachi airport was built at a cost of over 400 millionUS $, and the Lahore airport probably cost the same. From the lack of activity it is fairly obvious that somebody has got their sums wrong. Both airports have been built without any thought for the actual use, that governs the design and plans for an airport. Ie the expected number of airlines and of passengers. The number of airlines coming to Karachi has diminished considerably, and no western carrier lands at Karachi anymore. Nor are they likely to, given the present rate of issuance of visas by the Embassies in Pakistan, and with no increase of visas in the foreseeable future, it would seem that both Quaid-e-Azam International Airport, and Allama Iqbal International Airport, to give them their full and imposing titles, should be renamed White elephant one and White elephant two. Their imposing architectural presence should be held up as an example of wasteful public expenditure, at the cost of our future generations.

In other countries, the accepted practice is that the traffic was allowed to build up till the number of passengers, and flights could no longer be handled safely at that particular airport. In Pakistan we can safely say that tourist traffic outbound is at zero growth, as with zero growth in visas, both are interdependent. The inbound traffic has always been minimal due to Pakistan not being a favoured tourist destination, and after 9/11 the tourist invasion is unlikely to occur--ever. The CAA must be held accountable for what has been a staggering display of fiscal irresponsibility. The previous managements of PIA should be asked to explain their role, for their growth forecasts must have been the inputs that the CAA used to build their model. In Islamabad we are giving the design and construction to an international consortium, for some very serious money--- in the form of loans surely to be repaid later at high interest rates. The excuse that the area around Islamabad airport is congested does not hold good because airports such as Heathrow have houses directly under the flight paths. Also our Pakistani squatters will appear out of nowhere, and the congestion itself will have moved along with new airport. In the meantime we will find that the land of the old Islamabad airport will have been plotted and allotted to a handful of smart operators. A killing will have been made, but at whose cost, White Elephant no 3.

The money earmarked for this construction should be diverted into doubling of the Railway track, and of faster safer trains. It is truly criminal that we can have such serious accidents on our railways with a horrific loss of life. This should not have happened, and all resources must be channeled towards making this form of travel safer. The British left us with functioning Railway, which has sadly gone downhill since independence, while our neighbours have steadily improved their service. We chose to concentrate on PIA, and that too has sadly been slipping in performance and service. It is unfortunate that even with elected members of Parliament, who should be diligently watching over and curtailing waste, Pakistan is spending on useless toys, which are the ultimate as a Nations showpiece. VVIP jets are yet another example. There is simply no justification for either. The VVIP jet or the new Islamabad airport.