In partial relief to airlines, Pakistan has opened one route for west-bound flights from India more than a month after it shut its airspace for all civilian flights following the Indian Air Force’s strikes at Balakot.
“Pakistan opened a route for west-bound flights around 5 p.m. on Thursday. The impact of this announcement is yet to be assessed,” said a senior official of the Ministry of Civil Aviation.
A decision on opening a passage for planes overflying Pakistan and entering India is yet to be taken.
‘One of 11 points’
The route that has been opened passes from near Mumbai and enters southern Pakistan. This is only one of the 11 exit and entry points between India and Pakistan, according to the official.
Since the ban by Pakistan on the use of its airspace, several flights within Asia, between Asia and West Asia or Europe or the U.S. were forced to take a longer route, entailing an increase in flight duration and sometimes a halt for refuelling. This led to an increase in operational costs, forcing many airlines to cancel flights or hike fares.
Air India’s flights to the U.S. and Europe on Friday used the route restored by Pakistan. A senior airline official said, “Since the imposition of ban by Pakistan, the flying time for our flights from New Delhi had increased by 1.5 hours and from Mumbai by 30-40 minutes. The new route will save us 8-12 minutes depending on the winds.”
The official said, “It is not much of an advantage but we feel it is a beginning. The benefit is more for our flights from Mumbai to U.S. and Europe.”
Meanwhile, U.S. carrier United Airlines announced that it was suspending its flights between Newark and New Delhi beginning April 5 for two weeks but will continue to monitor the situation.
However, it will continue to operate its non-stop flights to Mumbai.
The International Air Transport Association (IATA) in an e-mail interview to The Hindu said, “We urge Pakistan to open the airspace as soon as possible.”
IATA’s spokesperson for Asia Pacific regions Albert Tjoeng said 220 flights were directly affected because of the airspace closure.
“Normally at least 220 flights fly through Pakistan’s airspace every night between Asia and Europe. But the impact of the airspace closure is more than that due to the congestion on the alternative routes taken to fly around Pakistan airspace,” Mr. Tjoeng said.