Pakistan had closed its airspace on February 26 after the Indian Air Force struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot.
New Delhi: Four months after India conducted airstrikes in Balakot following the Pulwama terror attack, Pakistan reopened its airspace for international civilian flights on Tuesday, leading to normal air traffic operations between India and Pakistan.
Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority on Tuesday issued a Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) at 12.41 am (IST), saying the country’s airspace has been opened with immediate effect for all types of civil traffic on “published ATS (Air Traffic Service) routes”.
Shortly after Pakistan’s move, India also issued a “revised NOTAM”, announcing that normal air traffic operations had resumed between the two countries. “After cancellation of NOTAMs by Pakistan and India in the early hours today, there are no restrictions on the airspaces of both countries, and flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing significant relief for airlines,” the civil aviation ministry said in a tweet. “This is great news. A big relief to air passengers,” it added.
Westbound flights from India to the US and Europe will not only take less time now, as there will be no detour, but airfares on these routes, which had shot up over the past few months, are also likely to come down significantly soon.
“Consequent to Pakistan issuing NOTAM to lift all airspace restrictions, relevant authorities have informed that India has also issued revised NOTAM immediately thereafter. With this, normal air traffic operations have resumed through all Flight Information Regions between India and Pakistan,” a government source said.
British Airways was the first to fly through the reopened Pakistani airspace at 2 am on Tuesday. The move gives relief to several airlines that had to take a detour due to the closed Pakistani airspace.
Pakistan had closed its airspace on February 26 after the Indian Air Force struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot in retaliation for the Pulwama terror attack on February 14. Later, Pakistan opened two of its 11 routes, both passing through the southern region.
India too had imposed restrictions in its airspace due to the heightened tensions between the two sides, but the restrictions were only in certain sectors and that too for a brief period. “Only on February 27 we had stopped Srinagar airspace for two-three hours. We did not allow tensions with Pakistan to dictate our civil aviation because our economy is much bigger and much stronger as compared to theirs,” Air Chief Marshal B.S. Dhanoa, the Chief of Air Staff, had said recently.
Following the airstrike, Air India had to re-route, merge or suspend many of its international flights that connect India with European and American cities.
On May 31, India announced all temporary restrictions imposed on Indian airspace had been removed but most commercial airliners still had to suffer due to the longer routes. However, Pakistan’s aviation secretary Shahrukh Nusrat made a statement saying they would not open the airspace until India removed its fighter jets from forward bases.
“Ever since the Pakistani airspace was closed, we had to reroute our flights south of Pakistan. The flying time for long-haul flights towards the US increased by 90 minutes
with additional fuel usage. The US-bound flights had to be stopped at Vienna, where the crew had to be changed. It takes three hours. As Pakistani airspace is now open, aircraft utilisation will go up and the crew requirement will come down by 25 per cent. Flight operation costs for US-bound flights may also come down by Rs 20 lakhs one way and for Europe-bound flights by Rs 5 lakhs. From today, night flight operations may be on the original schedule, as it was earlier before the closure of Pakistani airspace,” an Air India spokesperson said.
Air India suffered a financial loss of over Rs 491 crores due to the re-routing of its international flights following Pakistan’s move to close its airspace, while private airlines SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir lost Rs 30.73 crores, Rs 25.1 crores and Rs 2.1 crores respectively, according to the data given by civil aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri in the Rajya Sabha on July 3.
IndiGo, India’s largest airline by domestic marketshare, was unable to start direct flights from Delhi to Istanbul due to the closure of Pakistani airspace.