Islamabad: In a massive relief for air travellers as well as the airline sector, Pakistan reopened its airspace for all flights early Tuesday after a gap of six months since the IAF’s strikes on Balakot. Hours after the announcement, an Air India flight from San Francisco, which was en route to Delhi, became the first Indian airline to fly over the neighbouring country and reach 90 minutes earlier.
The curb meant airlines had to take a longer route to reach their destinations and burn more fuel, stop midway for refuelling as well as roster more pilots and cabin crew, as their duty hours are regulated. An increase in fuel expenses, which constitutes 40% of an airline’s operational costs, resulted in an increase in fares and in some cases cancellation of flights, leaving passengers with fewer options to choose from.
“Pakistan has cancelled the NOTAM [notice to airmen] for its airspace with effect from 0038 IST, consequential NOTAMS by India also cancelled. Airlines likely to resume normal routes through Pakistan airspace,” an official of the India's Ministry of Civil Aviation said.
The move will benefit Indian carriers as well as those airlines that enter or exit Pakistan from its eastern border with India, such as South East Asian airlines, as Pakistan had lifted its curbs for most other airlines. Until now, only two of the 11 routes between the two countries had been opened by Pakistan.
Around 3 a.m., Turkish Airlines’s Istanbul-Delhi flight became the first to use the Pakistan airspace. An hour later, Air India’s flight from San Francisco to Delhi followed it. An Air Indian official said all its flights between Delhi and destinations in the US and Europe have been flying through from early Tuesday. SpiceJet’s Jaipur-Dubai flight, too, flew over Pakistan, and is yet to announce the resumption of its flights to Kabul. IndiGo, whose flight to Istanbul had to take a long detour via Qatar and stop there for refuelling, doubling its flight duration, says it is awaiting clearances to start operations on the reopened route. Afghanistan’s Ariana Afghan is expected to resume operations between Kabul and Delhi next week and Kazakhstan’s Air Astana, which resumed four flights from Almaty to Delhi says it will return to its 11 flights a week mid-August after demand picks up.
“With the reopening of Pakistan’s airspace, aircraft utilisation will go up and crew requirement will come down by 25%. Operational costs for the US-bound flight may come down by 20,00,000 one way, and for the Europe-bound flights by Rs 500,000. From Tuesday night, we expect all our flights to return to the original schedule,” Air India spokesperson Dhananjay Kumar said.
According to government data, Air India was the worst hit among all Indian carriers. It lost £49 million until July 2 due to the sheer number of flights it operates to the US and Europe. According to IATA, before the ban at least 220 flights used the Pakistan airspace every night between Asia and Europe.