Virgin Atlantic to start Pakistan flights

ISLAMABAD (Reuters) - Virgin Atlantic will in December start services between Britain and Pakistan, where local airlines face a ban on flying to most European destinations due to a scandal over unqualified pilots.

FILE PHOTO: A Virgin Atlantic tailfin and nose livery seen at Heathrow airport, London, Britain, May 5, 2020. REUTERS/Toby Melville

Virgin, 51% owned by Richard Branson's Virgin Group and 49% by U.S. airline Delta (DAL.N), said its flights will go on sale next month, becoming the second western carrier after British Airways ICAG.L to serve destinations in the country.

“We’re thrilled to announce that from December, we’ll be flying direct to Pakistan,” said a tweet from Virgin, whose trade creditors on Tuesday voted in favour of a 1.2 billion pound ($1.6 billion) rescue plan.

“We’ll have flights from Heathrow to both Lahore and Islamabad, plus direct service from Manchester to Islamabad,” the tweet said.

Pakistan grounded 262 pilots for “dubious” qualifications late June, prompted by a preliminary report into a crash in Karachi in May that found the pilots didn’t follow standard procedures and disregarded alarms.

That crash killed 97 passengers and crew.

The European Union Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) banned two Pakistani airlines from flying to the bloc for six months, while Britain and the United States have also revoked landing rights for Pakistan International Airlines (PIA).

Various global safety boards have also downgraded the national carrier’s rating over aviation safety risks and several countries have grounded Pakistani pilots.

The ban has given openings to players like Virgin to vie with PIA on some of the world’s most lucrative routes, though PIA has resumed flights to the UK using a plane leased from Portugal-based Hi Fly.

PIA spokesman Abdullah H. Khan said healthy competition was good for the industry. “We sincerely hope that we’ll be able to restore our suspension before or during that time,” he said, referring to the scheduled start of Virgin services.

Reporting by Asif Shahzad; Editing by David Holmes