The Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) has begun a long overdue overhaul of its navigation systems. It is set to spend $9.6 million, out of its own revenue, to replace the 22-year old radar systems in place at airports. The new navigation systems would allow double the number of flights that can simultaneously enter the airspace, since they can now be tracked with greater accuracy, increasing traffic and safety. The PCAA has given an 18-month deadline for the installation of these radars, while more improvements and update are in the pipeline for the next three years. The actions are timely; Pakistan’s civil aviation has been in a downwards spiral, due to – amongst others – the faltering fortunes of Pakistan International Airlines, the dilapidated state of the airports, and the constant security threat to the airports. The PCAA, which generates a major portion of its revenue through navigating international flights through its airspace, would have the potential to double that, and bring improvement at greater speed.

While this is a commendable step, other doubts remain. While Pakistan will have the potential to cater to more flights, the willingness of international airlines to use this opportunity depends on other factor. Security threats are the main cause of this hesitancy, while substandard airports facilities are another problem. Similarly, fog, an annual natural phenomenon across large parts of Punjab, lead to delays and unpredictable rescheduling, causing exorbitant loss of revenue and leading to passenger discomfort. All this acts as a glass ceiling to the number of flights we can handle. For the PCAA to truly rake in the revenue from the new radar systems, these issues need to be addressed.

For the most part this burden falls on the PCAA, which operates solely on the revenue it generates. The Prime Minister’s plan for greater economic connectivity through the Pak-China Economic Corridor and Gawadar port focuses on roads, railways and maritime routes, while airfare is left to fend for itself. The state must invest in civil aviation to modernise it. Only then can the vision of an economic corridor cover all bases.