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Tuesday, Aug 20, 2019

Pakistan reopens airspace, airfares fall

Airlines have had to fly longer and spend more money on fuel and extra crew after bypassing Pakistan, and passengers have had to pay more towards air fares on international destinations.

india Updated: Jul 17, 2019 01:30 IST
Faizan Haidar
Faizan Haidar
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
About 30 flights were taking a longer route everyday while about a dozen had to be cancelled in the four months that the ban was in place.
About 30 flights were taking a longer route everyday while about a dozen had to be cancelled in the four months that the ban was in place. (Satyabrata Tripathy/HT Photo)
         

Pakistan on Tuesday lifted restrictions on the use of its airspace by civilian planes, ending a more than four-month ban on commercial traffic that took effect after India’s punitive February 26 air strikes on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp in Balakot, in a move that brought immediate relief to airlines and passengers.

Airlines have had to fly longer and spend more money on fuel and extra crew after bypassing Pakistan, and passengers have had to pay more towards air fares on international destinations. Online travel agents said air fares immediately fell up to 35-40%.

Air India’s flight AI 184 from San Francisco to Delhi was the first to resume using Pakistani airspace. The flight’s captain Vasdev Singh Jasrotia said once the plane entered Pakistani airspace from the western border, he got a message from the Karachi Air Traffic Controller (ATC) that he can fly through directly to Delhi instead of going south to avoid the restricted airspace around the India-Pakistan frontier.

“In fact, I checked with the ATC twice to make sure I heard it right. We were anyway using the Karachi airspace but were entering India through the Ahmedabad side. I landed one hour before the scheduled arrival and passengers were really happy,” said Jasrotia, who has been flying the SFO flight for seven years. The flight landed at 6:56 am at Delhi airport as against the 8am scheduled arrival.

In all, about 30 flights were taking a longer route everyday while about a dozen had to be cancelled in the four months that the ban was in place.

Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority confirmed it had cancelled the Notice to Airmen (Notam) it issued onFebruary 26, restricting use of its airspace with effect from 12:38am on Tuesday. “With immediate effect, Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civilian traffic on published ATS (Air Traffic Service) routes,” the authority said.

“Pakistan’s airspace closure resulted in longer routes and higher expenses for airlines that run flights to and from Dubai, US and Canada. With the ban now lifted, airfares of international flights from cities like Delhi and Mumbai on some routes have dipped by about 35-40%. The one-way average fare of a Mumbai-Amsterdam flight which was 1.5 hours longer last week due to the ban, has decreased from R40,515 to R26,700 this week,” said Aloke Bajpai, CEO and co-founder of ixigo, a travel website.

Air India was losing ₹13 lakh every day as a result of the Pakistani airspace restrictions, according to Union minister Hardeep Puri’s response to a a question in parliament. The airline will now save 30 minutes to four hours of flying time depending on the routes and its requirement for crew members will go down by 25%.

“Ever since Pakistani airspace was closed, we had to re-route our flights south of Pakistan. The flying time for ultra long-haul flights towards US increased by 90 minutes and also addition fuel and crew were needed. US-bound flights had to be stopped at Vienna,” Air India spokesperson Dhananjay Kumar said.

“In Vienna, crew were changed and we had to stop there for three hours so total flight time had increased by four hours and thirty minutes. As Pakistan airspace is now open, aircraft utilisation will go up while crew requirement will come down by 25%. Flight operation cost for US-bound flights may come down by ₹20 lakh one way and for Europe-bound flights, it may be come down by ₹5 lakh,” he added.

All flights are expected to resume on their original routes starting on Tuesday night, Kumar said.

Pakistan had earlier said it would not open its airspace for commercial flights until India removed its fighter jets from forward Indian airbases.

Pakistan shut its airspace on the eastern border with India after the strike on the Balakot terror camp on February 26, which was in retaliation for the February 14 suicide car bombing in Pulwama, Jammu and Kashmir, that left 40 men of the Central Reserve Police Force dead.

In March, Pakistan partially opened its airspace but did not allow Indian flights over its airspace. Foreign airlines using Indian airspace, too, have been forced to take costly detours because they were not allowed to fly over Pakistan.

On May 31, India removed restrictions on airspace along the Pakistan border. Eleven entry and exit points for Pakistan were opened and the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) was informed about the move. Flights couldn’t resume because Pakistan needed to open its own airspace as well.

Pakistan, too, allowed airlines, including Indian operators, to use some parts of its airspace.

Pakistan is in the middle of a vital aviation corridor and the airspace restrictions impacted hundreds of commercial and cargo flights every day.

“Reopening of Pakistani airspace is a welcome announcement that brings huge relief to the aviation industry which has borne the brunt of extra fuel costs owing to the forced diversion and increased flying time to and from India,” said Sharat Dhall, chief operating officer (business-to-consumer) at Yatra.com.

“We can expect airfares on the affected routes to come down as the flying time reduces and goes back to normal. International travel on long-haul routes between India and the west and even to the Middle East will become more affordable and we can expect to see growth in passenger traffic on these routes,” Dhall added.

First Published: Jul 16, 2019 23:21 IST

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