Here is a fact you may not know: there are four cities in Pakistan from which you can catch a regular direct flight to London Heathrow Airport: Karachi, Lahore, Islamabad, and Sialkot. You probably guessed the first three. It is possible you may not have known about the fourth.
Sialkot, in the imagination of the rest of Pakistan, is the enterprising city known as the birthplace of Iqbal, the home of Pakistan’s sporting goods manufacturing industry, and the city whose business community – in an extraordinary act of self-reliance – got together and made their own airport, the first and only privately owned airport in the country. What is perhaps less well understood is just how well that airport is doing, and just how much Sialkotis love to travel – or need to travel for work.
The speed and scale of success of aviation in Sialkot is breathtaking. It is – by far – the fastest growing airport in Pakistan, with international air traffic growing at 62.7% per year for the past 11 years, according to data from the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA). But the numbers alone do not illustrate just how fast things have changed in the city.
In 2006, there was no airport in Sialkot at all. If you lived in Sialkot, you had to drive or take the bus to Lahore to then catch a flight to wherever else you were going. Now, in 2020, Sialkot is the fourth most connected airport in the country. Here is a list of global cities that you can catch a direct, non-stop flight to from Sialkot every week: Dubai, Sharjah, Doha, Muscat, Riyadh, Dammam, Manama, Kuwait, London, Milan, and Barcelona. And the flight to Paris has just one stopover, in Barcelona.
Needless to say, given that rapid expansion of air travel from Sialkot, it is not surprising that the entrepreneurs in Sialkot want to stop relying on the state-owned Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) and set up their own airline, called AirSial, which will have its hub at Sialkot Airport.
It is almost as if the members of the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce said: we built our own airport, and we will now build our own airline. But to understand how AirSial is even possible as an idea, it is important to understand how Sialkot Airport was created.
The story of Sialkot Airport
Sialkot is part of Punjab’s export triangle, which consists of the industrial cities of Gujrat, Gujranwala, and Sialkot. Unlike the other two cities, however, Sialkot is not on the main Grand Trunk Road that formed the core road transit link between Lahore and Rawalpindi (and is the modern manifestation of the ancient highway that runs from Chittagong to Kabul.) And while Sialkot does have a railway station, it is not on the main railway line that connects Peshawar to Karachi, but rather indirectly connected through a branch line that terminates at Wazirabad.
That lack of connectivity has historically been a cause of much concern to the Sialkot business community, specifically the roughly 400 family-owned businesses that form the core of the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI).
For a long time, the SCCI tried to get its demands to be taken seriously by decisionmakers in Islamabad, but to no avail. By the later 1990s, the SCCI membership had started coalescing around the idea of: “if the government will not give us our own airport, we will build one for ourselves.” And so, in 2001, the SCCI approached the Musharraf Administration for permission to begin building their own airport.
Perhaps it is fitting that it was under a military government that the SCCI was able to secure permissions: the CAA, which governs aviation in Pakistan, is a division of the defence ministry, and Sialkot’s location close to the border with Indian Kashmir may have created complications that did not allow the airport to be built for a long time.
However, once the Musharraf Administration gave the go-ahead, the SCCI began to raise capital relatively quickly. The richest 365 members of the SCCI began contributing the equity capital for the newly created Sialkot International Airport Ltd, the company that would run the airport. The minimum contribution was just over Rs1 million, though the 13 richest families invested well over Rs10 million each. The total amount of money raised was just under Rs2.1 billion.
The airport itself was built on more than 1,000 acres, in a plot of land that was located outside Sialkot, and strategically accessible to both Gujrat and Gujranwala as well so as to serve as large a population as possible. While the government did not help pay for the airport itself, the Punjab government did build a small road that connected the airport to the highway between Sialkot and Wazirabad.
Sialkot Airport is a single terminal, single runway airport, though the runway is the second longest in Pakistan, behind only the new one at Islamabad International Airport. Construction began in January 2003, and the first test flight was conducted in March 2005.
Air Blue was the first airline to start regular flights to Sialkot from Karachi, beginning in late September 2007, with PIA starting less than two weeks later.
Continue reading your story on the app
Continue reading your story in the magazine
Transitioning to EV is the way to go - If we'll do it is another question entirely
Pakistan has been proactive in forming an EV policy and has gotten much acclaim for it. But does the government have plans beyond just saving the environment, and will they be able to pull it off?
Where the women at?
On KLF manels, and why financial inclusion for women matters Think of this as the Profit female reporters’ manifesto on calling out corporate fluff
Turnaround at AkzoNobel Pakistan in the making?
After three years of tepid revenue and profit growth, the global paints giant's Pakistani subsidiary is beginning to see significantly increased profitability
SIALKOT IS PREPARING FOR take-off
As more Pakistanis are able to afford to fly, Air Sial's founders hope to make their home city one of the major hubs of aviation in the country
Despite growing competition, Adamjee Insurance remains the dominant player
How Pakistan’s oldest company has managed to retains its market share even as newer companies continue to lure customers
As Thar power plants come online, Engro's profits soar
The conglomerate’s net income is up 30% in 2019, investments continue in telecom infrastructure sharing and petrochemicals business
GLOBAL TECH GIANTS THREATEN TO LEAVE PAKISTAN OVER NEW RULES
Internet and technology companies have threatened to leave Pakistan after the government granted blanket powers to authorities to censor digital content, a move critics say was aimed at curtailing freedom of expression in the conservative Islamic nation.
MARYAM and NIVAAL REHMAN became activists when they were eight years old, inspiring girls in their village in Pakistan to continue their education. The now 19-year-old twins have since worked for such causes as girls’ education, climate justice, gender equality and inclusivity. They have their own non-profit, The World With MNR, that uses advocacy, storytelling and development to take action and inspire others to do the same. They have used their social media and YouTube channels to cover several events, including the Social Good Summit in New York City, the Girl Up Leadership Summit in Washington D.C., and interviews with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai, and Madame Christine Lagarde, President of the European Central Bank. They have received several awards, including the Governor General’s Caring Canadian Award. Recently they released a documentary on the status of girls’ education in Pakistan and held global screenings to spark further conversation and inspire action.
EXILE IN THE AGE OF MODI
How Hindu nationalism has trampled the founding idea of my country
INDIA'S MODI IMPORTS AMERICAN DISCRIMINATION
AMERICA’S SUCCESS IN delivering enviable living standards while protecting human rights has made it the moral gold standard of the world, inspiring global movements for social justice, freedom, and democracy.
Ready. Set. Go
We made it easy for you. We asked our travel experts where they want to go in 2020. Their answers will surprise and inspire you. Presenting 27 adventures to get you out in the world this year.
Sabika was a Muslim exchange student from Pakistan, Jaelyn was a homeschooled Christian. Somehow, they became inseparable- until the unthinkable happened
Kate Pregnant –With Twins!
William’s delighted but consumed by fear he could lose wife
Life In The Landscape
Qasim Bashir feels the spirit of the landscape and creates a story through his paintings
Coal Won't Die In Pakistan And China!
As this vast mine in Pakistan’s Thar Desert attests, the world’s No. 1 cause of carbon emissions will be a major source of electricity for decades, despite the outcry against it
Meet The New Pakistan, A Lot Like The Old Pakistan
Imran Khan brings a charismatic visage to the troubled country. But does he have a fresh vision?