Pakistan forces incoming SpiceJet cargo plane from Sharjah to leave
Pakistani authorities forced a SpiceJet cargo plane on its way from Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates to Afghanistan’s Kabul to turn back after it entered Pakistan’s airspace on Wednesday, two officials familiar with the matter said.
Islamabad opened its airspace in phases in March after closing it following the Indian airstrike on a terror camp in Pakistan on February 26. Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) officials said the Pakistani airspace is closed for flights originating from India. The pilot must have thought that the flight can enter the Pakistani airspace as it was neither destined to nor coming from India, they added.
“It was a Boeing 737 cargo plane with registration number VT- SFB. SpiceJet launched cargo flights from January and it has been going to Afghanistan and Hong Kong regularly. The pilot has submitted the information to the DGCA and once he returns, we might ask for more details,” a DGCA official said on condition of anonymity.
India carried out the airstrike in Balakot after Pakistan-based Jasih-e-Mohammad claimed responsibility for the February 14 attack on a paramilitary convoy that left 40 security personnel dead in Jammu and Kashmir’s Pulwama district. Pakistan retaliated on February 27, downed a fighter jet and captured Indian Air Force (IAF) pilot Abhinandan Varthaman before releasing him two days later.
Air India, for instance, has been spending about Rs 15 lakh extra per flight to the US and Europe due to extra flying time because of the Pakistan airspace closure, as the tensions have continued between New Delhi and Islamabad with frequent cross-border firing since the air strike.
Repeated text messages and calls to DGCA chief BS Bhullar and SpiceJet about Pakistan’s refusal to let the cargo plane use its airspace remained unanswered.
Another DGCA official said the SpiceJet plane was sent back as it was an Indian registered aircraft. “Pakistan has never specified that it has closed airspace for Indian registered aircraft no matter from where they are coming. If this is official, we will issue an advisory for Indian carriers.”
Flightradar24, a Swedish internet-based service that shows real-time commercial aircraft flight information on a map, showed active flight movements on the Pakistan-Afghanistan border. It also showed the SpiceJet aircraft on its way to Kabul from Sharjah and later returning midway.
“Not allowing flight into the airspace is not a violation of any international rule as Pakistan might be doing this due to safety reason,” said Mohan Ranganathan, an aviation safety expert.
The closure of the Pakistani airspace has also led to a sharp increase in fares — by 40-50% for same-day and, in some cases, up to 200% for last-minute fares, according to travel website executives. Imports and exports have also become costlier as cargo planes, too, have to take detours.
SpiceJet announced dedicated freighter services between Guwahati and Hong Kong on January 18 this year under the brand name of SpiceXpress.
The first flight took off on January 19 from Guwahati carrying a consignment of fresh fruits and vegetables. The company has deployed Boeing 737 freighters on the route with an approximate carrying capacity of 18 tonnes.