DUBAI: The reopening of Pakistan airspace for civilian traffic after six months has come a relief for Indian passengers as it has reduced travel times by up to four hours on some flights.
Indian carriers together lost over Rs 550 crore due to the restrictions that had resulted in longer flight times and higher fuel burns. A chunk of this was for flag carrier Air India, which lost Rs 491 crore till July 2
Pakistan had closed its airspace on February 27 in wake of the Balakot strikes.
The ban forced airlines to take a longer route to reach their destinations and burn more fuel, resulting in hike in fares and even cancellation of some flights.
America’s United Airlines and Air Canada had suspended direct flights to India while the Indian national carrier, Air India incurred heavy losses. However, on Tuesday, 16 July, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM), stating that “with immediate effect Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civil traffic on published ATS (air traffic service) routes”.
Shortly after the announcement, an Air India flight from San Francisco, became the first Indian airline to fly over the Pakistan in six months and reach its destination, New Delhi, 90 minutes ahead of schedule..
In a statement Air India said: “Ever since Pakistani airspace was closed, we had to reroute our flights south of Pakistan. The flying time for Long haul flights towards USA increased by 90 minutes and also addition fuel usage needed. US-bound flights had to take a stop at Vienna where crew was changed, and (this entire process took an extra) three hours. As Pakistan airspace now open aircraft utilisation will go up while crew requirement will come down by 25 per cent. Flight operation cost for US-bound flight will drop by Rs 20 lakh one way and for Europe-bound flights by Rs5 lakh [Rs500,000]. From Tuesday-Wednesday night flight operation may (may return to route taken) before closer of Pakistani airspace.”
It is still not clear when foreign carriers that had suspended flights because of the airspace closure will resume flights to India. A Singapore Airlines spokesperson said, “We are reviewing our overflight options in relation to Pakistani airspace with the relevant authorities.”