Pakistan reopens airspace, ending months of flight restrictions

Pakistan closed its airspace completely after aerial dogfights in February ratcheted up tensions between it and India. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - A key airline route between Europe and Asia reopened on Tuesday (July 16), almost five months after Pakistan shut its airspace in the wake of military escalations with India.

Pakistan closed its entire airspace in February after the Indian Air Force said it struck what it described as a terror camp - an allegation Pakistan denies - inside the boundaries of its western neighbour.

Pakistan then shot down an Indian MiG-21 aircraft and captured a pilot.

While parts of the airspace had since reopened, global airlines were still forced to cancel or reroute flights to India from the West, and those to South-east Asia from Europe.

"With immediate effect Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civil traffic on published ATS (Air Traffic Service) routes," according to a so-called Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) published on the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority's website.

The move by Pakistan offers a welcome break for international airlines after the airspace restrictions affected hundreds of commercial and cargo flights each day, adding to flight time for passengers and fuel costs for airlines.

India's ministry of civil aviation said that after the lifting of the NOTAMS, there were no further restrictions on airspace in either country.

"Flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing a significant relief for airlines," it said.

Carriers had to spend more than US$200 million (S$271 million) in extra fuel due to the closure, according to estimates by Instalocate, an artificial intelligence-based travel assist company. The disruptions caused US$370 million in additional costs for as many as 1.8 million travellers to and from New Delhi, the company said.

The closure flew "in the face of the countries' global responsibilities to civil aviation", Peter Harbison, chairman emeritus at the CAPA-centre for aviation, said before the ban was lifted. Airlines increased their fares to compensate, which may have offset or even outweighed the additional costs, he said.

Pakistan's "unilateral measure" cost state-run Air India US$71 million until June 2, Indian aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri told Parliament this month.

Pakistani airspace is the primary route between South-east Asia and Europe, with about 220 services connecting the regions daily, according to the International Air Transport Association.

Carriers from Singapore Airlines to Qantas Airways and United Airlines had to reroute their flights due to the ban.

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