(Prof. Safdar Sandal) Pakistan did not have a national airline until 1955, when the private ‘Orient Airways’, was nationalized and renamed ‘Pakistan International Airways’. Initially, it was founded on 29 October 1946 and was based in Calcutta; later shifted to the newly independent state of Pakistan in 1947, after which it was nationalized to form as ‘Pakistan International Airlines Corporation’ (PIAC).

PIA became one of the fastest-growing airlines in the 1960s. It was the first airline to have introduced in-flight entertainment. The uniforms of PIA stewardesses were designed by famous French fashion designer,  Pierre Cardin. M.A. Ispahani was a leading industrialist, to have set up a national airline for the country, on a priority basis. Mirza Ahmed Ispahani was a  Perso – Bengali businessman based in Chittagong and was the first Chairman of ‘ Pakistan International Airlines. With his singular vision and foresight, Mr. Jinnah realized that with the formation of the two wings of the country Pakistan, (East Pakistan and West Pakistan) separated by a hostile land of 1,372 miles (= 2,208 km), a swift and efficient mode of transport and communication was imperative. The Airline performed well and even made its way into the list of the first five leading international airlines of the World during the 1970s. “For the airline of a country which was cut in half six months ago; PIA deserves praise for the speed with which it had faced facts and turned disaster into opportunity” came the remarks of Murray Bailey in 1972. Bailey (a famous writer of international repute) was referring to the bifurcation of Pakistan into Bangladesh and Pakistan in 1971. PIA’s fortunes however started to decline after the late 1980s. It is being resurrected now though not efficaciously enough.

PIA had bonanza men, the famed engineers, and technicians who had provided training facilities to Emirates’ first staff members. Pakistan Airlines got ensured that they had the resources needed for the project. Several weeks later, the airline (Emirates) had earned a name. Today the Emirates Airline has been recognized internationally as one of the best airlines and declared so deservedly. It continues to enjoy the repute of good service and has grown into a multi-dimensional business and made profits immeasurably. The day when Emirates touched the shores of Sialkot, it was for SIAL Company, a day like Columbus had discovered and landed in America. The picture above inside the airplane was taken by me on my mobile, during my last journey (in 2020) and is very much enjoyed by me.

In order to fill the gap in a modest way the industrialists of Sialkot in their well-known fashion, have decided to float a much-needed Airline (of their own) for service of their country, to operate domestically first and later internationally. They have established this Airline, again with their own money and above all with national zeal and dedication. The progressive people of Sialkot have already built an International Airport on their own initiative and are running it successfully on BOO (Build, Own and Operate) basis. Now they have gone a step further to establish an airline of their own, with the name ‘AIR SIAL’ (it may be noted that SIAL is a historical name: Raja SALBAN was the ruler of India based in Sialkot in the second millennium CE. He is believed to have founded the fort and later the city of Sialkot (originally SIALKOT). The name is pretty enough like the city itself which is lying in the foothills of the mighty Kashmir Mountains. Formerly it had been the winter capital of the state of Jammu and Kashmir and is now in the Punjab province of Pakistan, close to the country’s northeastern border with India. Jammu being 30 miles away by road or by train (the straight-line distance (from my house) is 10KM or 6.50 English miles; so I can see the Kashmir Mountains as close- by). Both the links (road and train) to Jammu from Sialkot or vice versa still exist, although in shambles and not in working order. It is one of the biggest cities and a tragedy of human history.

The delay in operation of ‘AIR SIAL’ has been caused mainly due to the Covid-19 virus and the resultant decrease inactivity of the local Pakistani people and the diaspora residing in foreign countries. Hopefully, it is possible that someday people of Jammu will also use the ‘Sialkot International Airport’ and the ‘AIR SIAL’; as in history chronically, intervals of century-old-periods are not uncommon. Of course, Sialkot and Jammu have remained twin cities from times immemorial. Relationships or kinships between the people of two cities had been immense at all times and are still full of remorse among many families. The times may come again as is said that ‘history repeats itself’. It will be undoubtedly to the jubilation of all people of Jammu and Sialkot since later has been a gateway to Kashmir.