Pakistan's move to close airspace has hit Indian national carrier Air India the most with it losing Rs 491 crore as of July 2, 2019.
New Delhi: A unilateral decision by Pakistan is costing the Indian aviation industry heavily. The closure of airspace over Pakistan following Balakot airstrikes, however, has hit the national carrier – Air India – the most with it losing Rs 491 crore (as of July 2, 2019), according to Civil Aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri. Puri, who informed the Rajya Sabha about the numbers on Thursday, admitted that the closure of airspace “followed the non-military counter terrorism airstrike by Indian Air Force against terror camp in Balakot, Pakistan in February 2019”.
In a written reply in the Upper House, Puri said India’s largest domestic airline IndiGo incurred a loss of Rs 25.1 crore till May 31 while budget carriers SpiceJet and GoAir lost Rs 30.73 crore and Rs 2.1 crore, respectively till June 20. On Friday, Pakistan extended the closure of its airspace for the fourth time till July 12.
Following Balakot airstrikes, Pakistan had fully closed its airspace on February 26. While it later opened up the airspace – out of the total 11 air routes in Pakistan’s territory, it has opened up only two since March – restrictions on overflying the country still continue. One of the open route is westbound waypoint over Arabian Sea towards Karachi, Hingol, Gwadar, and the other is eastbound over Karachi, Badin into Gujarat, India. While the closure affected hundreds of east-west flights flying over the subcontinent, westbound flights from airports in northern India such as Delhi, Lucknow, Amritsar, etc have been affected the worst.
A detour over Gujarat and Maharashtra and then flying right bypassing Pakistan has resulted in an additional delay of nearly 90 minutes. Several long-haul flights such as United Airlines’ Delhi-Newark flights have been cancelled; so has SpiceJet’s Delhi-Istanbul flight. IndiGo’s Delhi-Istanbul nonstop flight now needs to stop at Doha for refuelling.
The thing to note here is the airspace closure has not only hit Indian airlines, it hit Pakistani carriers as well. A study by Pakistani and foreign aircraft carriers says that nearly 400 flights have been affected and the loss for Islamabad was to the tune of Rs 688 crore between February and June. Revenue is generated from route navigation and airport charges levied on aircraft flying over or landing in Pakistan. Total loss incurred could be to the tune of $300,000 till date.
Additionally, state-run Pakistan International Airlines is also suffering losses due to suspension of flights to destinations such as Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Delhi.
A way out of the impasse is “for Pakistan to decide”, Puri said.