Less than 48 hours after Virgin Atlantic gained support for its financial restructuring, the airline has announced it will fly to Pakistan from December 2020.
Sir Richard Branson’s airline will serve the capital, Islamabad, from both London Heathrow and Manchester, and the eastern city of Lahore from Heathrow.
Pakistan, along with the vast majority of countries outside Europe, is currently on the UK government’s no-go list.
But Virgin Atlantic’s network planners believe there is an opportunity to serve the Pakistani diaspora in the UK and beyond.
The airline is also aiming at connecting traffic from the US.
Juha Jarvinen, chief commercial officer at Virgin Atlantic, said: “With travel restrictions remaining in place for many destinations around the world, we’re continually evaluating our network, looking at customer demand and where there are opportunities to launch new services.
“Pakistan is an extremely exciting opportunity for us – it boasts one of the largest foreign-born populations in both the UK and the US and, as people start to travel to visit loved ones, we’re anticipating the demand to visit friends and relatives will increase post Covid-19.
“Both Lahore and Islamabad are popular year-round destinations and we look forward to welcoming travellers onboard as demand for leisure and business travel gradually increases to the region.”
The move will also help Virgin Atlantic to use more than its portfolio of slots at Heathrow airport, which could otherwise be lost.
The Foreign Office say that, in 2018, there were an estimated 484,000 visits by British nationals to Pakistan.
Its current travel advice warns: “Terrorists are very likely to try to carry out attacks in Pakistan.
“There’s a high threat of terrorism, kidnap and sectarian violence throughout the country, including the major cities of Islamabad, Rawalpindi, Lahore and Karachi.”
British Airways is to resume flights from Heathrow to Islamabad on 1 September.
The national carrier, PIA, is currently barred from flying to Britain and the European Union because of safety concerns.
The European Union Air Safety Agency (Easa) ban follows the crash of a PIA Airbus A320 on a scheduled flight from Lahore to Karachi on 22 May. Ninety-seven passengers and crew died after a botched “go-around” that damaged the plane on a first attempt at landing.