LAHORE - The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is witnessing an improved business after Defence Minister Ch Ahmad Mukhtar’s statement about grounding the private airlines’ planes for inspection.

“Passengers have been left with no other option but to travel through the national flag carrier,” sources in the PIA said on Monday. “All PIA flights on domestic routes are overbooked and no seat is available within coming two to three days on Lahore-Karachi and Lahore-Islamabad sectors,” said a staffer at the PIA reservation office.

He said normally, the PIA had good business after weekends and in the evening flights on the abovementioned sectors. But passengers were now opting for PIA after the Bhoja Air plane crash and two narrow escapes by the Shaheen Airlines planes at Karachi and Lahore airports a couple of days back.

Sources say repeated incidents of crash and emergency landing have panicked the passengers, most of whom had even reserved their seats with private airlines, and they are trying to get seats in the PIA flights after getting their tickets cancelled.  The development came after the defence minister ordered inspection of the planes of all the private airlines to ensure safety of passengers. Mukhtar said the process would be completed within four days, adding that the aircraft, which failed to meet the international standards, would be permanently grounded.

He said if proved that the recently crashed the Bhoja Air plane was not fit for flight‚ the licence of the airline would be cancelled. A senior official of Bhoja Air on the condition of anonymity said the defence minister’s statement had damaged the business of private airlines and benefited the PIA.

To a question about the inspection he said he could not understand the reasoning behind the move, as they had already got their planes inspected and cleared by the CAA.

He said the operation of private airlines was very much active, adding that the flights were carrying a reduced number of passengers since fear had gripped the people after the Islamabad plane crash, but the trust in private operators would restore within one or two months.

He refuted the impression that the CAA inspection would start after grounding the all planes of the airlines and said it would be a routine check-up which would not affect the flight operations.

A of Shaheen Airline official said they had received any instruction to ground the fleet, but they would get the fleet inspected by the CAA.

He was of the view that a onetime check took three to four hours to ascertain airworthiness.

To a question, he said incident could take place any time and did not relate to airworthiness, as he referred to the plane crashes of former military dictator Gen Ziaul Haq and PAF chief Mushaf Ali Mir.

He said the passenger load had reduced after recent incidents but situation would normalise with the passage of time.