Long-delayed Islamabad Airport finally takes off

Long-delayed first ever greenfield Islamabad International Airport, replacing the tiny overcrowded Benazir Bhutto airport, is finally inaugurated by Prime Minister Shahid Khaqan Abbasi ending the congestion which had frustrated air travel in the past.

A pilot of national flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) waved national flag out of his cockpit window after landing the carrier’s first commercial flight at the New International Islamabad Airport in presence of the prime minister and other senior officials of the aviation industry.

Speaking on the occasion, the prime minister who himself is a commercial pilot and runs a private airlines, said that the aviation industry is close to his heart. He said that inauguration of the new airport rightly reflects what has happened in Pakistan in the last five years.

New airports in Multan, Faisalabad, Quetta and Peshawar were in the final stages. “Nothing is impossible but this project definitely seemed impossible,” quipped the premier in an obvious reference to the delayed inauguration of the airport.

The new Islamabad airport, which has the capacity to handle 15 million passengers annually and space for further expansion, was first suggested in the 1980s and has been more than a decade in the making.

The new airport is about 15km (nine miles) from the capital. Benazir Bhutto airport was in the nearby city of Rawalpindi and attached to a military base.

International travellers often complained about chaotic scenes at the airport and in 2014 it was voted the worst in the world by the “Guide to Sleeping in Airports” website, prompting widespread criticism of the airport in Pakistani media.

Full flight operations shifted to the new airport on May 3. All commercial and VIP flights from Benazir Bhutto International Airport (BBIA) moved to the new airport.

International carriers, including Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways, Thai Airways, China Airlines, Oman Air, Etihad Airways, Saudi Airways, Gulf Air, Kuwait Airways and Turkish Airlines, operate flights to and from Islamabad along with PIA, Shaheen Air and Air Blue.

The new airport will have 15 air-conditioned jet ways or passenger boarding bridges, 13 remote bays for larger aircraft and 7 remote bays for ATR and other smaller planes, in addition to four cargo bays.

The new airport will have five conveyer belts to assist passengers in claiming their luggage and personal belongings after they exit their planes. All 15 bays will have separate lounges to make it easier for travellers to navigate to the correct waiting areas.

At level 1 – there are the international and domestic passengers’ arrival area and collection bays for baggage. Airline offices and the engineering department will also be housed on the first level.

At level II–there are the domestic arrivals and departure lounges, boarding bridges, visitors’ gallery, car parking, and Immigration counters for international passengers.

At level III–there are international and domestic check-ins–baggage drop after check-in security scanning, international immigration departure and other airlines offices.

At level I–there are state lounges and commercially important persons (CIP) lounges, in addition, a crew briefing hall.