Fares to US, Europe set to drop as Pak opens airspace for civilian aircraft

In a relief to the aviation industry and passengers, Pakistan has decided to open its airspace for civilian aircraft almost five months after shutting it.

Pakistan airspace is a key transit corridor for carriers flying from India to Europe, and the USA and vice versa. The closure had forced airlines to take longer routes, thereby incurring higher cost. Several airlines had even suspended  flights to certain destinations.

Following Pakistan’s announcement late Monday night, airlines have already started using the airspace to cut the flying time. Travel industry executives said the move would allow airfares to normalise on west-bound routes, which had witnessed a 35-40 per cent increase following the closure.

The airspace for civilian traffic was shut after India had carried out air raids on Pakistani territory on February 26, in response to a suicide attack in the Kashmir town of Pulwama earlier that month. India had blamed Pakistan for the February 14 suicide bombing, a charge the latter denied. While a portion of the airspace was opened in June, Prime Minister Narendra Modi refused to fly over that corridor on way to Bishkek despite Pakistan allowing it. Thereafter, Pakistan had kept the airspace shut for airlines flying from and to India.

"With immediate effect, Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civil traffic on published (Air Traffic Service) routes," the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said.

Officials of Indian air navigation unit said that Pakistan had started the process of removing the closure from midnight on Monday. “At around 11 pm on Monday, we were apprised that the ban on airspace for transit flights will be removed in an hour. Air India’s flight to Delhi from San Francisco was one of the first to be given permission to use the airspace,” the official said.

“Resumption of civilian traffic will bring down the flying time, providing shorter routes making operations viable and connectivity seamless from India to West-bound flights,” said Indiver Rastogi, president, global business travel at Thomas Cook India.
IndiGo’s Delhi-Istanbul flight, whic had become a 10-hour journey as the airline had to take a stop at Doha to refuel due to Pak airspace closure, will now revert to the original schedule, the airline said. “IndiGo flights flying via Pakistan will operate as normal after all regulatory clearances by the concerned authorities.”