Pakistani start-up AirBlue is planning to launch domestic operations in May with three leased Airbus A320s, writes Leithen Francis.

The three secondhand aircraft, which are powered by International Aero Engines V2500 engines, will be delivered on five-year leases this month in a deal brokered by International Lease Finance (ILFC). Two of the A320s were previously operated by Thomas Cook Airlines Belgium, and the third was with Middle East Airlines. ILFC does not own all the aircraft, but manages all three of them.

The airline has its corporate headquarters in Islamabad, while its operations centre is in Karachi.

AirBlue chief operating officer is Shahid Khaqan Abbasi, a former chairman of flag carrier Pakistan International Airlines (PIA). The airline is owned by a group of Californian-based Pakistani IT entrepreneurs. "The owners approached me and we discussed the possibility [of establishing an airline in Pakistan]," says Abbasi. "We looked at the market and then came up with this proposition. We agreed there is definitely a market available to us."

Pakistan authorities issued AirBlue with a "regular public transport licence" in November and it has since lodged an application for an air operator's certificate, which the airline hopes to receive in early May. Initial services will be thrice-daily flights on the Karachi-Islamabad and Karachi-Lahore routes. The company plans to list on the Karachi stock exchange by early June, says Abbasi. AirBlue will be positioned at "the quality end of the market", he adds.

Next year, AirBlue aims to launch international services to the Middle East and the Far East, says Abbasi, adding that under the country's laws, new airlines are only permitted to operate domestic routes during the first 12 months of operation.

Source: Flight International