New Delhi: The recent shutdown of Pakistani airspace following tensions relating to the Pulwama suicide bombing in February has affected nearly 400 incoming and outgoing flights and has resulted in losses amounting to almost USD 100 million for Islamabad, people familiar with the incident have said.
Pakistan closed its airspace following an aerial engagement along the Line of Control on February 27 in the wake of the suicide attack by the Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) that killed 40 Indian jawans. On June 28, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) announced the closure for overflight and transit flights is scheduled to continue till July 12.
An extensive study of operations by Pakistani and foreign carriers between February and late June showed approximately 400 flights a day were hit by the closure of airspace. It also resulted in enhanced flight times as aircraft have to bypass Pakistani airspace, and this has led to increased fuel expenses, operational costs and maintenance costs and higher duty hours for aircrew, the people cited above told Hindustan Times.
One of the primary problems this has given rise to is the falling revenues for the CAA from route navigation and airport charges that were usually levied on any aircraft flying over or landing in Pakistan. These charges depend on the category of aircraft and distance traversed within Pakistani airspace. For instance, the charge for a Boeing 737 transiting through Pakistani airspace is about USD 580, and the charge is more for bigger aircraft.
“Given that some 400 flights a day have been affected and using the charge of $580 as a base, it can be safely assumed that daily losses due to overflight charges alone for the CAA would be about $232,000,” a person told Hindustan Times.
“If you add losses from charges for terminal navigation, landing and parking of aircraft, the daily losses are in the region of USD 300,000,” the person added.
The state-run Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) is also suffering major losses of almost USD 460,000 daily due to suspension of flights to foreign destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Delhi, and increased operational and fuel costs due to longer flying times even for domestic flights, the people said. The combined daily losses of the CAA and PIA – about USD 760,000 – have resulted in losses of almost USD 100 million since the airspace restrictions were imposed, they added.
The people pointed out the airspace closure also has several knock-on effects, such as the availability of funds to maintain and service navigation equipment and the loss of passenger share by PIA.
Many foreign airlines have already curtailed or suspended most flights in the region because of the airspace closure and Mark Martin of Dubai-based Martin Consulting said: “The loss is on us because airlines have to take longer routes in order to avoid Pakistan airspace.
“India has to take up the matter at diplomatic level as ultimately passengers are at a loss with airlines passing on the higher operating costs to them,” he added.