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Inside Pakistan: British Airways To End Lahore Flights

British Airways will stop serving Lahore on February 27th, less than a year and a half after it began, although it’ll still serve Islamabad. Pakistan has been a part of BA’s network on various occasions. For example, it served Islamabad from Gatwick (typically via Manchester) using B747-400s, and then non-stop from Heathrow between 2003 and 2008. It returned to the country over a decade later.

Despite BA exiting the market, two airlines will still operate Heathrow-Lahore next summer. Photo: Anna Zvereva via Flickr.

BA to halve its Pakistan network

BA added Heathrow to Lahore on October 12th, 2020, followed two months later by Virgin Atlantic. BA’s Lahore service came 16 months after it inaugurated Islamabad, although it was halted between March and August 2020. Virgin then added Heathrow-Islamabad.

BA ending Lahore comes as the carrier shifts Islamabad from Heathrow to Gatwick on March 27th, although it’ll operate once-daily – more often than from Heathrow. BA will use high-capacity Gatwick-based B777-200ERs, well suited to the higher volume but lower yields to Pakistan.

Heathrow to Lahore operates outbound on Wednesdays, Fridays, and Sundays, and inbound on Mondays, Thursdays, and Saturdays. It uses 214-seat B787-8s, especially good for lower-premium routes, and has the following schedule (all times are local). It competes head-to-head with a four-weekly Virgin Atlantic offering.

  • BA259: Heathrow-Lahore, 18:05-06:55+1 the next day
  • BA258: Lahore-Heathrow, 09:05-13:00
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LHR to Pakistan
Across all airlines (including transit), Heathrow to Lahore (LHE) had 178,000 round-trip point-to-point passengers in 2019. That was less than Islamabad (ISB; 244,000) but more than Karachi (KHI; 113,000). Image: GCMap.

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The recent appeal of Pakistan

BA and Virgin’s interest in Pakistan is for various reasons, including enduringly strong point-to-point demand, generally robust freight demand, and – significantly recently – a large and clear opportunity following Pakistan International’s ban from the UK, US, and EU. In 2019, PIA had 95% of the non-stop UK-Pakistan market, according to OAG schedules data.

As the UK to Pakistan is so heavily driven by visiting friends and relatives (VFR) demand, fares are not particularly high. VFR markets are renowned for being the lowest of the low for yields, reflecting a high proportion of economy passengers. To make such high-volume markets work, airlines need low seat-mile costs. BA switching Islamabad to Gatwick indicates this in action.

According to booking data, Heathrow to Lahore had an average one-way fare of USD$260 in 2019, excluding a 20-30% fuel surcharge (kept by the airline) and taxes. In contrast, Heathrow to Delhi is 7% farther yet achieved a 21% higher average fare from a stronger traffic mix. Of course, freight demand would somewhat boost revenue.

Virgin-MAN-to-Islamabad-Dec-10th-Launch-2020-0033-low-res-e1607684657470
Despite COVID, the VFR market has remained buoyant. Along with PIA’s ban and restricted markets elsewhere, this helped Virgin to launch Pakistan in late 2020. Photo: Manchester International Airport.

Pakistan International back to the UK

To circumvent the ban, PIA has wet-leased JY-JVB from Jordan Aviation. It’s a 14.8-year-old A330-200 with 326 seats, and it’s deployed from Islamabad to Birmingham, Heathrow, Manchester, Paris, and more.

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However, following the completion of ICAO’s safety audit of Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority, PIA itself is expected to return to the UK on a regular and consistent basis from May. It anticipates five non-stop routes.

What do you make of the various developments? Let us know in the comments.

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