Pakistan reopened its airspace to international civil aviation yesterday after months of restrictions imposed because of clashes with India, which forced long detours that cost airlines millions of dollars.
“Pakistan airspace is open for all types 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 (CAA)’s website, shortly after midnight.
“Pakistan’s airspaces are completely open for all kind of flights with immediate effect,” CAA spokesman Ahmer Azeem told DPA. “All kind of flights can fly through Pakistan now.”
Pakistan lies on an important aviation corridor, and the decision offers a welcome break for international airlines.
The restrictions, imposed in February, affected hundreds of commercial and cargo flights each day, adding flight time for passengers and fuel costs for airlines.
Flights between Europe and Southeast Asia were forced further south, which added as much as 450km (280 miles) to some journeys.
Indian flights headed west were disrupted, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) was forced to suspend some of its flights, and major international routes in and out of Islamabad and Lahore, such as the Thai Airways route from Islamabad to Bangkok, were effectively closed off.
“Pakistan being open again makes the traditional and preferred Europe-Asia route through Afghanistan, Pakistan and onwards to India available again, and means that city pairs abandoned after the February shutdown will likely be restarted,” OPSGROUP, which provides guidance to operators, said in a note.
Indian operators were badly affected by the shutdown.
An Air India spokesman said the company would take about a week to rework its schedule and come up with a plan to operate its flights over Pakistan.
Air India suffered losses of 4.91bn Indian rupees ($71.6mn), India’s aviation minister, Hardeep Singh Puri, told lawmakers this month.
IndiGo Airlines, India’s largest by market share and controlled by Interglobe Aviation Ltd, incurred a loss of 251mn Indian rupees due to the closure of the Pakistani airspace, while Spicejet Ltd incurred losses of 307.3mn Indian rupees, Puri said.
An IndiGo spokeswoman said that IndiGo flights flying via Pakistan “will operate as normal after all regulatory clearances by the concerned authorities”.
Representatives of Spicejet did not respond to calls and messages seeking comment.
India’s ministry of civil aviation said that there are now no restrictions on airspace in either country.
“Flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing a significant relief for airlines,” it said.
Pakistan closed its airspace completely after aerial dogfights in February ratcheted up tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi.
It removed some restrictions a month later but kept constraints in place along its eastern border with India.
The crisis between the countries was first sparked by a suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir in February this year that left 40 security personnel dead, which was later claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohamed.
Days later India responded with a cross-border air raid on Pakistan that kicked off a quick succession of attacks and dogfights between the arch-rivals over the disputed Kashmir frontier, spurring global fears of all-out war.
Pakistani and Indian soldiers have continued to fire over the Line of Control (LoC), the de facto border dividing Kashmir, killing several civilians on both sides.
Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947.
Both claim the Himalayan territory in full and have fought two wars over it.
Pakistan’s announcement came hours after United Airlines Holdings Incorporated said it was extending the suspension of its flights from the United States to Delhi and Mumbai in India until October 26, citing the continued Pakistani restriction.
The dropping of the restriction will allow Pakistan, which this month agreed the terms of a $6bn bailout from the International Monetary Fund (IMF), to collect overflight fees.
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