Major relief to Air India, other airlines as Pakistan opens its airspace

New Delhi: Pakistan opened its airspace for all civilian traffic on Tuesday morning, sources said, following months of restrictions after the Indian Air Force (IAF) carried out airstrikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp in Balakot in February.

The move is expected to give a major relief to Air India, which underwent a huge financial loss of around Rs 491 crore as it had to re-route its various international flights due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace.

Pakistan had completely shut its airspace on the eastern border with India after the strike on Balakot. In March, Pakistan partially opened its airspace but did not permit Indian flight to fly over its airspace. It opened one of its 11 air routes for west-bound flights from India mid-April — airlines like Air India and Turkish Airlines have started using it.

Indian carriers together lost over Rs 550 crore

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, while India’s largest domestic airline IndiGo incurred a loss of Rs 25.1 crore till May 31. Budget carriers SpiceJet and GoAir lost Rs 30.73 crore and Rs 2.1 crore respectively till June 20.

Foreign airlines using Indian airspace have been compelled to take expensive detours because they cannot fly over Pakistan. The closure mainly affected flights from Europe to Southeast Asia.

Pakistan lies in the middle of a vital aviation corridor and the airspace restrictions impacted hundreds of commercial and cargo flights each day, adding to flight time for passengers and fuel costs for airlines.

Post the air strike, Air India had to re-route, merge or suspend many of its international flights that connect India with European and US cities.

IndiGo, India’s largest airline by domestic market share, was unable to start direct flights from Delhi to Istanbul due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace.

The low-cost carrier started the Delhi-Istanbul flight in March. Till date, this IndiGo flight had to take the longer route over the Arabian Sea and make a stop at Doha in Qatar for refuelling.