By Devvrat Pandey: The impact of unprecedented scenes on the streets of Pakistan following the arrest of former Prime Minister Imran Khan Niazi was also witnessed in the airspace with the cancellation of several flights. However, the footprints of large anti-military protests can also be seen in the movement of private and government aircraft.
India Today’s Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) team monitored approximately 90 hours of flight activities over major Pakistani cities and traced over 50 such high-value flights, including military and government-run aircraft as well as private jets.
Several of these flights included military transport aircraft like the C-130H and Ilyushin-IL78. Contrary to social media speculation of hundreds of private jets leaving Pakistan amid the crisis, very few special flights were seen leaving Pakistan between 9th and 12th May.
AIR FORCE IN ACTION
A number of military transport aircraft were seen flying around Islamabad and Rawalpindi between May 9 and May 12. These included refurbished C-130H Hercules tactical transport aircraft that Pakistan acquired from Belgium. These Pakistan Air Force (PAF) operated transport jets can transport a wide variety of cargo, including helicopters, vehicles and personnel.
On May 10, a couple of small jets likely operated by the Pakistan government were seen flying to Pakistan from Turkey and Qatar. These flights match the local reports of Pakistan’s military and civil leadership returning from abroad due to the sudden crisis. Another Turkey-registered Gulfstream jet was seen returning from Lahore to Istanbul.
Over a dozen PAF-operated military flights were seen around Islamabad during the first three days of the protest. However, this number would be much higher considering many military aircraft did not broadcast on publically available systems and many of them had their registrations and build-type hidden.
Among the many PAF aircraft flying over Islamabad and Rawalpindi was a Beech King Air 350i that often serves as a platform for intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance.
Consequently, limited data about the flights were available on the aviation data aggregator Flightradar24. For example, at least 10 special jets were seen departing from Lahore and Rawalpindi, five of these flights were identified as Pakistan Air Force aircraft, while the remaining five were unidentified as no details were available.
On May 10, many government aircraft and military aircraft were seen flying between Islamabad and Lahore, as well as from Karachi to Rawalpindi.
The pattern seemed to continue for the next two days. Most of the special flights that were seen included the Gulfstream 450 and 650, Cessana 208B, Bombardier Global 5000, Dasault Falcom 8X and Beech 300 Super King.
UNUSUAL LAHORE-KOLKATA FLIGHT
One of the flights that stood out was a Lahore-Kolkata chartered business jet, operated by a U.S.-based aviation services company. The jet left Lahore hours before the arrest of Niazi and reached Kolkata around 9 am on Tuesday morning. While it is not known who was on board this jet, it left for Bangkok after spending almost 90 minutes at Kolkata airport.
On May 9, approximately 20 special flights were observed taking off and landing at Lahore and Islamabad airports.
The flight pattern suggests a quick movement of government resources to the capital city and nearby Rawalpindi–the HQ of the Pakistan army. Earlier Imran Khan alleged that high-ranking intelligence officers were involved in a conspiracy to assassinate him.