SIALKOT -  The trendy Sialkot exporters’ dream of having an International Airport became true, when they established the grand project of Sialkot International Airport in 2007 (ten years ago) on self help besides setting up a unique example of self help, advising others to replicate it.

There was no doubt to say that Sialkot International Airport has become a saga of success, commitment, honour and dedication of Sialkot exporters as well. Now, the Sialkot International Airport   has successfully been moving ahead towards the goals of excellence for the last one decade by honouring the commitments of providing the international standard aviation and cargo facilities to the Sialkot exporters and even the general public as well.

Sialkot International Airport has also jazzed up the pace of exports from Sialkot, besides, opening the new vistas of socio –economic human development in Pakistan’s first ever “Golden Export Triangle” comprising the Sialkot, Gujrat and Gujranwala districts.

Now, the Sialkot exporters are pining hope that the project of Sialkot airport would also be helpful in doubling the annual Sialkot exports from exiting $2 billion. The opulent Sialkot business community had established Sialkot International Airport in 2007 (ten years ago) by spending Rs4 billion on self help basis. This airport covers selected site measuring 1034 acres is located at 16 KMs to the West of Sialkot. Sialkot International Airport was built by Sialkot exporters on Build Operate and Own (BOO) basis. It was at a 40 minutes drive from Gujrat and Gujranwala cities as well.

While highlighting the important aspects of Sialkot International Airport , the Sialkot-based leading exporters including Mian Muhammad Riaz,  Riazud Din Sheikh, Khawar Anwar Khawaja, Khawaja Zakaud Din, Mian Naeem Javaid, Dr Muhammad Aslam Dar, Dr Nouman Ides Butt, Ejaz A Khokhar, Muhammad Haneef Khan and Chaudhary Tauheed Akhtar, who played their frontline pivotal role in establishment of Sialkot International Airport, said that the Sialkot business community had ever wanted to link the Pakistan’s export-oriented Sialkot city with the international trade markets.

To achieve this goal, it had become important to have an International Airport at Sialkot. For this, the trendy Sialkot exporters struggled hard for getting International Airport at Sialkot by the government. But, they could not succeed in getting a positive response from the government sector.

Therefore, Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) took the initiative and decided to build an International Airport at Sialkot. Now, Sialkot International Airport   is having 8 international flights daily.

They said that the positive effects of Sialkot International Airport are: Sialkot has become an international city open for international buyers, as the buyers from all over the world feel more comfortable and safe while travelling directly to Sialkot. Sialkot exporters are the frequent travelers are facilitated from Sialkot International Airport in all respects. “Our transit time of air cargo has been considerably reduced from 10 days to 4, 5 days as well,” they said. Therefore, the Sialkot exporters and people feel more comfortable, more secure and benefitted by Sialkot airport, they added.

In an exclusive interview with this correspondent, Sialkot International Airport Limited (SIAL) Chairman Malik Muhammad Ashraf said that the grand project of Sialkot airport, set up by Sialkot exporters on self help basis, has been laying a pivotal role in opening the new vistas of socio-economic and human development in Pakistan’s first-ever “Golden Export Triangle” comprising Sialkot, Gujrat and Gujranwala districts, besides, helping a lot in boosting the Sialkot exports.

The SIAL chairman said that Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, during his recent visit to Sialkot airport, assured that all the problems of Sialkot airport would be resolved amicably on top priority.

He said that the Sialkot exporters have set a unique example of self help by establishing the grand project of Sialkot International Airport on self help basis. He said that the Sialkot exporters have been playing a pivotal role in strengthening the national economy by earning precious foreign exchange to the tune of $2 billion annually.

He revealed that now as many as 51 international passenger flight in a week a taking off to the foreign destinations from Sialkot International Airport, saying that the number of these flights would soon be increased due to the growing number of the passengers here.

He said that the regular cargo flights to Europe and America are also on from Sialkot airport for facilitating the Sialkot exporters in handling their cargo consignments to the foreign destinations as well. He stated that the mega project of Sialkot International Airport, established by the trendy Sialkot exporters on self help basis, is now proving itself as a milestone towards the stability of the national economy. There is no doubt to say that Sialkot International Airport   project has now become a success story.

The SIAL chairman narrated that the mega Sialkot airport project, is now opening the new vistas of economic development in the country and bring a boom in the industrial sector. He said that it would also help in doubling the annual export of Sialkot from existing exports $2 billion, thus catering to the need of the Pakistan’s first ever Golden Export Triangle comprising Sialkot, Gujrat and Gujranwala districts.

He said that the management of SIAL has formally invited the several international airlines to come to Pakistan and start their international passenger and cargo flights from Sialkot-Pakistan to several foreign destinations as well. He said that Sialkot airport could be a very successful foreign destination for any airline, saying the Sialkot exporters have written a unique golden history of self help by completing this mega project, advising others to replicate it. He said that the industrialists and exporters of Sialkot had set a unique precedent for others in the country to follow by successfully launching a mega project on self-help basis.

Ashraf narrated that the Sialkot International Airport   has also ensured the easy access of Sialkot exporters to the international business routs, foreign destinations and international trade markets besides, leaving very positive, health and pleasant impacts on regional economical growth and human development in Pakistan’s first ever “Gold Export Triangle” comprising Sialkot, Gujranwala and Gujrat districts here.

He further said that the prime minister has also accepted the invitation about inauguration of the second terminal at Sialkot International Airport, which would be functional very soon. He said that the project of Sialkot International Airport is moving ahead successfully towards the goal success and excellence besides striving to open the new vistas of socio-economic and human development here.

He said that the dream of Sialkot business community has now become true in shape of Sialkot International Airport. Talking to this correspondent, Sialkot International Airport’s former chairman Mian Muhammad Riaz (who remained chairman of Sialkot airport from 2001 to 2005 for five consecutive years), said that the Sialkot exporters have proved that all the difficulties could be resolved through the dedication and struggling hard after successfully completing the grand project of Sialkot International Airport   on self help basis as well. Riaz also remained the SIAL chairman in 2015 as well.

He said that he invited as many fist 15 directors of Sialkot International Airport Limited (SIAL), overseas Pakistanis from the US, 12 directors from London and several overseas Pakistanis, who invested in this project.

He said that now Sialkot International Airport Limited (SIAL) has 365 directors, out of which one director is elected as chairman of SIAL every year.

He said that the trendy Sialkot exporters travelled shoulder to shoulder with him for making this grand project as successful, as they did not demand any profit of their investment for the last one decade as well.

President Mamnoon Hussain had also awarded “The Best Life Time Achievement Award” to Mian Muhammad Riaz, the founder chairman of Sialkot International Airport, in recognition of his splendid services rendered for establishing this international airport.

The FPCCI has also awarded the Annual Best Export Award for 16 consecutive years to Mian Muhammad Riaz for his best export performance as well. Riaz revealed that the then prime minister Syed Yousaf Raza Gillani had also donated Rs250 million for Sialkot International Airport’s further development with the special efforts of Dr Firdous Ashiq Awan (the then federal minister) as well.

He said that the trendy Sialkot exporters were the “Roaming Ambassadors” who travel around the globe and earn the precious foreign exchange to the tune of $2 billion annually, besides, playing their pivotal role in strengthening the national economy and flourishing national exports as well.

He said that Sialkot exporters have developed a unique export culture by also establishing the other mega projects including Asia’s first ever private sector’s Sialkot Dry Port Trust (SDPT), Sialkot Tannery Zone, Sialkot Export Processing Zone (EPZ), the construction of all the inter-city roads in Sialkot city under Sialkot City development Package Program, launched by the Sialkot exporters by donating 0.2 percent of their total annual exports voluntarily.

Export-oriented Sialkot is globally famous for exporting the world class Sports Goods, Gloves, Surgical instruments, Sports Wears, Cutlery, Ceramics, and Leather Garments as well. The exporters of Sialkot had exhibited a strong will and spirit in the recent past by establishing the Sialkot Dry Port Trust (SDPPT) near Sambrial-Sialkot on self help basis and operating it successfully.

While accepting the challenging task again, they took the initiative and Sialkot Chamber of Commerce & Industry pleaded the case of airport with the government of Pakistan but due to financial constrains, the government expressed its in-ability to this effect. The dedicated and highly motivated exporters of Sialkot equipped with strong driving force and determination ultimately succeeded in their mission.

On February 2, 2001 (sixteen years ago), during the a detailed presentation given by the Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI), the then President Pervaiz Musharraf had given the final approval for establishing Sialkot International Airport at Sialkot on Build, Own & Operate (BOO) basis and a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) was signed between Sialkot Chamber of Commerce and Industry (SCCI) and Ministry of Defence (MoD) through Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

This first green field airport of the country has been constructed in an Investment friendly atmosphere, incorporating the best Airport facilities meeting international standards. Sufficient space has been allocated and reserved at the airport for airline offices, aircraft catering units, ground handling services, cargo warehouses, restaurant & car parking and hotel etc.

The total cost of the International Airport is about Rs4 billion. The operation of Domestic and International Flights started from November 30, 2007. Qatar Air started its two weekly cargo flights in October, 2008. The promoters from private sector were invited to join the mega project and a public limited company namely Sialkot International Airport Ltd (SIAL) was formed and registered.

The site selected was 1034 acres. The land was acquired and work started on the project in January 2003. Ground breaking ceremony was held on December 18, 2003 by the Punjab chief minister and he approved and announced a dual carriageway to link the International Airport with Sialkot-Wazirabad dual carriageway.

Recently, however, the government permitted foreign carriers to start their passenger flights from and to Sialkot. Resultantly, Air Arabia started its daily flight on the sector Sharjah-Sialkot-Sharjah from January 11, 2013 whereas, Fly Dubai is operating its passenger Flights thrice a week with effect from March 1, 2013. Emirates Air has started its Passenger Flight Operation from November 5, 2013. Gulf Air has started its operation from January 17, 2014. Similarly, Qatar Air, Oman Air, Etihad are also doing their spade work to start their passenger flights from Sialkot.

The Collectorate of Custom has established a full fledged Air Freight Unit (AFU) at Sialkot airport and bonded trucking facility from Sialkot International Airport to Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar Airports is already operational. The government of Pakistan has very kindly approved the establishment of ASF, Custom, Immigration, MET and other support services free of cost at this airport. At the moment, 365 directors are the members of the SIAL Board.

Sialkot International Airport is a unique project in private sector, may be first of its kind in South East Asia. The regional dynamics, which were lacking in this part of the country, has started picking up after the commissioning of the airport. It has speeded up the transportation of Export Cargo by Air and facilitating a great number of businessmen and Overseas Pakistanis of this particular region. It is attracting world-wide clients and we foresee major strategic changes in the region which will change the mindset of the industrialists, exporters and business community and it will direct unprecedented trade and business activities in the region. The airport has brought about a great Industrial revolution particularly in the employment of the residents of the cities forming export Tri-angle of Pakistan.

The SIAL chairman said that the business community of Sialkot had been earnestly demanding for an International Airport at Sialkot. It is a tribute to the determination and commitment of the people of Sialkot particularly its dynamic business community that has built such a low cost International Airport on self-help basis, setting a unique example in the history of aviation.

He said that by the grace of Almighty, the Sialkot International Airport is fully operational since 2007 and a number of international flights on various international routes are operating successfully. The success of this mega project in fact is the success of the area bounded by the golden export triangle comprising Sialkot, Gujranwala and Gujrat. He was optimistic about an exceptional business escalation, creation of employment opportunities and economic motion, which would bring revolutionary changes in the socio-economic sector of the region. He prayed to the Almighty Allah for its success and prosperity.

“To build, own and operate a business oriented airport in a safe, efficient, and fiscally responsible manner and provide superior standards of customer service and excellence, while maintaining the highest levels of safety, convenience and efficiency,” he added.

 

­Zafar Malik