Islamabad, Pakistan – United Kingdom airline British Airways will resume direct flights to Pakistan in June, a decade after suspending services to the South Asian nation over security concerns, the carrier has announced.
The service will resume with three flights per week between the two countries’ capitals, London and Islamabad, British Airways head of sales for Asia Pacific and the Middle East Robert Williams told a news conference in Islamabad on Tuesday.
“It’s exciting to be flying between Islamabad and Heathrow from next year, which we believe will be particularly popular with the British Pakistani community who want to visit, or be visited by, their relatives,” Williams said.
The UK is home to an estimated 1.17 million people of Pakistani origin, according to the UK’s Office for National Statistics, making it one of the largest diaspora hosts for the South Asian country.
The Pakistani government has lauded the decision as an indicator of improving security and economic investment opportunities in the country.
“Pakistan is once again getting connected with the world,” said Syed Zulfikar Bukhari, the Pakistani prime minister’s special assistant on Overseas Pakistanis and Human Resource Development. Bukhari is himself a dual national of the United Kingdom and Pakistan.
British Airways is the first major European airline to return to flying direct flights to Pakistan since services were suspended due to security concerns in the mid-2000s. The airline suspended services after a deadly truck bombing at Islamabad’s Marriot hotel in 2008 killed more than 50 people.
In the interim, Gulf-based airlines Emirates Airlines, Qatar Airways and Etihad Airlines have stepped in to absorb the bulk of the country’s international airline traffic.
Pakistan has been battling the Tehreek-e-Taliban Pakistan (TTP), an umbrella organisation of armed groups that has vowed to overthrow the government and enforce a strict interpretation of Islamic law, since 2007.
Since 2014, a series of military operations has seriously degraded the TTP’s ability to launch frequent attacks targeting civilians and security forces, with violence dropping significantly as the group was displaced from its erstwhile headquarters in the northwest of the country.
Sporadic large casualty attacks, however, have continued to occur, as the TTP has shifted its operational headquarters to eastern Afghanistan.
“Delighted to learn British Airways will be resuming flights to Pakistan,” tweeted Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi following the announcement.
“This decision is an acknowledgement of Pakistan’s continued efforts for peace & elimination of terrorism.”
BA’s flights will resume from June 2, 2019, the airline said in a statement.
Asad Hashim is Al Jazeera’s digital correspondent in Pakistan. He tweets @AsadHashim.