Pakistan refuses nod to President Ramnath Kovind’s aircraft to fly over its airspace; experts say shutting down Pakistani airspace proves expensive for airlines.

 

NEW DELHI :Amid growing tensions between India and Pakistan, airlines as well as aviation industry insiders and experts are seeking intervention from Government of India to put diplomatic pressure on Pakistan to stop the Pakistani government from shutting down its airspace for all airlines flying to and from India and having to use Pakistani airspace.

Aviation industry insiders have said that Government of India and the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) must take up this matter diplomatically with the international aviation community to ensure that such a step is not repeated by Pakistan, as it will exponentially increase the cost of operations for airlines flying towards the West, America and the Gulf.

Pakistan on Saturday denied permission to President Ramnath Kovind’s aircraft to fly over Pakistani airspace. President Kovind is slated to begin his three-nation tour of Iceland, Switzerland, and Slovenia from Monday to brief the top leadership of those countries about India’s “national concerns” in view of the growing threat perception of terror in India, especially after the Pulwama attack carried out by Pakistan in February this year.

An official with a major Indian airline said that the shutting down of the Pakistani airspace costs airlines a lot of money as it increases the flying time and fuel consumption, as the aircraft has to take a detour to reach destinations such as Dubai, Istanbul or anywhere in the Gulf or to the West from India. “For any flight towards the West or the Gulf, we fly over Pakistani airspace as usually a flight takes a straight path to reach its destination to save fuel and time, but if Pakistan once again shuts its airspace for Indian flights, the time, costs as well as fares are going to increase. The Indian government must ensure that no such step is taken by the Pakistani government. We are not in a war with Pakistan and no country in peace time takes such a step. Our government should give out a stern signal that such a step would not be tolerated,” the airline official quoted above said.

Pakistan had threatened to ban its airspace for all flights emanating to and from India following the abrogation of Article 370 and 35A which removed the special status given to the erstwhile state of Jammu and Kashmir. Pakistan’s Cabinet minister Fawad Hussain had told the media that Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan was considering the complete closure of the country’s airspace for India, while also placing a complete ban on the use of its land routes for trade with Afghanistan.

This is not the first time that Pakistan has taken such a step. Pakistan had shut down its airspace for all flights emanating to and from India in February, after the Balakot strikes and this had affected approximately 400 flights emanating to and from India daily as they had to bypass the Pakistani airspace due to its closure and fly a longer distance over the Arabian Sea. This had resulted in increased operational costs, fuel consumption and long duty hours for the flight crews.

Indian air carriers had suffered a loss of Rs 548 crore due to the airspace closure by Pakistan earlier this year, out of which Air India suffered a loss of Rs 490 crore, IndiGo a loss of Rs 25 crore and SpiceJet and GoAir lost Rs 30 crore and Rs 2 crore respectively.

Not only this, IndiGo had to delay the start of its Istanbul operations due to Pakistani airspace closure as the airline did not want to burden itself by beginning a new route.

Kapil Kaul, CEO, South Asia CAPA Centre for Aviation, told The Sunday Guardian, “Pakistan should not relate the airspace issue with the other issues that it has with India. I agree that airspace is a sovereign issue and if Pakistan decides to go forward with such a decision, it will only be unfortunate and concerted international pressure must be built on Pakistan as it will not only harm Indian carriers, but also other carriers that come to India. It has a long-term economic impact which will have to be borne by many countries.”

“International pressure and redressal may help ICAO (International Civil Aviation Organisation) and IATA (International Air Transport Association) to push for curbing such a measure by Pakistan and through such measure, it can warn Pakistan from taking such step because it impacts everybody globally.” Kaul added.

The Sunday Guardian has also written to ICAO—headquartered in Montreal, Canada—to seek their response on the story as to what steps the ICAO can take if Pakistan decided to go ahead with the banning of its airspace and this newspaper is yet to receive any response on the story till the time of going to the press.

 

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