For Indigo, one of the biggest setbacks would be on its Delhi-Istanbul route which it had quite enthusiastically launched earlier this year. Indigo's two daily non-stop flights to Istanbul fly right through the middle of Pakistan's airspace; enters Afghanistan, Iran, Azerbejain, Armenia and finally Turkey's airspace to reach its destination in six and a half hours. In the event of a closure, it would have to divert its flights south through Mumbai and the more circuitous Middle East routes. This could substantially increase its operating costs and force it to realign its current flight operations. Indigo flies to most European cities like Amsterdam, Zurich, Vienna and Brussels via Istanbul.
Air India which through its bigger arsenal of wide bodied aircraft operates more non-stop flights to Europe than any other airline would also have to bear the brunt of any closure of airspace by Pakistan. Almost all direct flights by Air India to Europe follow routes that involve flying over five area control centres in Karachi and Lahore FIRs bordering Kabul and Delhi FIRs. Diversions from these straight routes could hurt Air India whose fuel supplies have already been cut by suppliers at some airports due to non-payment of arrears. While both Indigo and Air India fly to Europe and Middle East, Spicejet's international destinations towards the West involve only Middle East in addition to Kabul. Spicejet has big plans to connect some of these Middle East destinations to smaller towns in India later this year and even into 2020. A closure of Pakistan's airspace can force Spicejet, which like other airlines is struggling financially, to put on hold some of these new plans. For instance over the next year, Spicejet planned to connect towns and cities like Bagdogra, Bhopal, Dehradun, Dharamshala, Coimbatore and others to Dubai through Delhi.
This could also have an impact on several international airlines operating in India. This includes Emirates and Etihad which use Pakistani airspace to connect Dubai to Delhi. In addition several smaller airlines like Ariana Afghan Air which connect Herat, Kandahar and Kabul to Delhi would have to radically reorient their routes. European airlines like British Airways, Finnair, Aeroflot, AlItalia, KLM Dutch Airlines and Luftansa which connect London, Helsinki, Moscow, Rome, Amsterdam and Frankfurt respectively to Delhi would also be adversely impacted. While some other airlines like Air Ethiopia and Air Astana that connect Addis Ababa and Astana to Delhi respectively would have to make only minor deviations of a few miles to fly outside Karachi and Lahore FIRs respectively and avoid Pakistani airspace.
While Spicejet recorded its first ever loss of of Rs 316 crore since 2014-15 last year, Indigo recorded its lowest ever profit of Rs 156 crore since it went public in 2016. Amidst the prospects of an airspace closure by Pakistan, Indigo was looking good by posting a profit of Rs 1200 crore in the first quarter of 2019-20 as compared to Rs 28 crore last year. Air India, meanwhile, is expected to post a loss of Rs 7600 crore in 2018-19, with the Modi government desperately trying to sell off the struggling airline without success. Fuel expenses comprise 40 per cent of the total expenses of an airline. If Pakistan closes its airspace, this could not just lead to rise in aviation fuel costs for these struggling or recovering airlines but also higher maintenance costs due to planes spending more time in the skies flying labyrinthine routes to reach the same destination. Along with fuel costs, maintenance costs account for more than half of the expenses of these airlines. With most Indian airlines looking to grow internationally by flying west from Delhi, the most dangerous impediment to their soaring ambitions might just come from Pakistan yearning for vengeance in the name of Kashmir.