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Pakistan Opens Its Airspace, Closed Since Balakot Strike

NEW DELHI, July 16: Normal air traffic operations between India and Pakistan resumed on Tuesday with Islamabad opening its airspace for all civilian flights, nearly four-and-half months after shutting it down following the Balakot air strikes.

Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) at 12:41 am (IST), stating that the country's airspace has been opened with immediate effect for all types of civil traffic on "published ATS (air traffic service) routes".

Following Pakistan's move, India also issued a "revised NOTAM", announcing that normal air traffic operations have resumed between the two countries.

"Consequent to Pakistan issuing NOTAM to lift all airspace restrictions, relevant authorities have informed that India has also issued revised NOTAM immediately thereafter. With this, normal air traffic operations have resumed through all Flight Information Regions between India and Pakistan," according to a government source.

Hours later, India's Civil Aviation ministry said flights had started using the closed air routes, bringing great relief to airlines and air passengers.

"After cancellation of NOTAMS by Pakistan and India in the early hours today, there are no restrictions on airspaces of both countries, flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing a significant relief for airlines," the Twitter handle of the ministry said.

"This is great news. A big relief to air passengers," it added.

The move is expected to give major relief to Air India, which suffered a financial loss of around Rs. 491 crore as it had to re-route various international flights due to the closure of Pakistan airspace.

"Pakistan has permitted all airlines to fly through its airspace from around 12.41 am today. Indian airline operators will start using normal routes through Pakistan airspace soon," the sources said.

Pakistan fully closed its airspace on February 26 after the Indian Air Force (IAF) struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist training camp in Balakot in retaliation for the Pulwama attack on February 14. The neighbouring country only opened two of 11 routes after that, both passing through the southern region.

On its part, the IAF announced on May 31 that all temporary restrictions imposed on Indian airspace post the Balakot strike had been removed. However, this did not benefit most commercial airliners and they were waiting for Pakistan to fully open its airspace.

While the national carrier lost Rs. 491 crore till July 2 due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace, private airlines SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir lost Rs. 30.73 crore, Rs. 25.1 crore and Rs. 2.1 crore, respectively, according to data presented by Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri in the Rajya Sabha on July 3.

Following the air strike, Air India had to re-route, merge or suspend many of its international flights that connect India with European and US cities.

IndiGo, India's largest airline by domestic market share, was unable to start direct flights from Delhi to Istanbul due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace.

The low-cost carrier started flying the Delhi-Istanbul route in March. It had to take the longer route over the Arabian Sea and make a stop at Doha in Qatar for refuelling.

Pakistan Aviation Secretary Shahrukh Nusrat had earlier informed a parliamentary panel that Pakistan would not move the ban until India removed its jets from forward bases.

Airlines stop flying over Iran as tension soars in Persian Gulf

NEW DELHI, June 22: Indian airlines are closely watching the unfolding scenario in the Gulf region, where escalating tensions following the downing of an American drone and aborted US air strikes on Iranian targets have threatened to create a situation that could be dangerous to civilian air traffic.

Aviation regulators of several countries, including the United States’ Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), banned their airlines from flying over Iran. India’s Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) announced on Saturday that Indian airlines had been asked to avoid parts of Iranian airspace.

The region falls in the path of west-bound flights from India, a route that has already been constrained by the closure of Pakistani airspace since tensions spiked in February and the two countries carried out airstrikes on each other’s soil.

“All Indian operators in consultation with DGCA have decided to avoid the affected part of Iranian Airspace to ensure safe travel for the passengers. They will re-route flights suitably,” the DGCA said in a tweet.

Air India chairman and managing director Ashwani Lohani said the move will not have a “substantial effect” on the airline’s flights. “Details being worked out for rerouting on incoming flights,” he said.

According to industry experts flights of Air India – the only Indian carrier flying long distances – will need to take a longer route to avoid the closed areas, which would add to its operating costs.

The airline is already spending an additional Rs 6 crore per day due to the Pakistan airspace closure.

Some of the world’s leading carriers including British Airways, Qantas and Singapore Airlines on Friday suspended flights over the Strait of Hormuz, as US President Donald Trump confirmed that he backed down at the last moment from launching air strikes on Iranian targets.

American carrier United Airlines also indefinitely suspended its flight between New York/Newark and Mumbai from Friday evening.

The suspensions announced on Friday will affect thousands of passengers.

Local long-haul carriers Emirates and Etihad were among those that changed flight routes in an area that is home to major hubs of global air travel. That could further imperil the bottom lines of Gulf long-haul carriers, which already have faced challenges under the Trump administration.

Military conflict zones pose serious risks to civilian air traffic, with the case of the Malaysian Airlines flight MH-17 serving as the most potent example. In 2014, Russia-backed rebel forces in Ukraine fired a surface-to-air missile that blew up the plane, killing 298 people on board – possibly mistaking it for a Ukrainian military aircraft.

The drone that Iran shot down using a surface-to-air missile had a wing span larger than a Boeing 737 aircraft – a commonly used jet by airlines – and had the capability to fly higher than altitudes typically used by commercial flights.

Air India on recovery path with new international flights

NEW DELHI, June 15: Loss-making national carrier Air India expects to earn an operational profit of at least Rs 1,000 crore per year with more frequent flights to the US and Australia as well as direct flights to Bali, Toronto and Nairobi that the airline will launch in October, a senior official of the airline said on the condition of anonymity.

In 2017-18, the airline had earned a revenue of Rs 23,000 crore but a year later, it incurred a loss of about Rs 4,000 crore, adding to the Rs 50,000 crore debt it already had.

“In 2018-19, our revenue was Rs 25,000 crore but the expenses range around Rs 29,000 crore. We have increased the target for 2019-20 to Rs 31,000 and since the expense is expected to be same, we can manage operational profit of around Rs 1000 crore. However, a lot depend on the opening of Pakistan airspace,” said the AI official.

The closure of airspace by Pakistan in the wake of the February 26 Balakot airstrikes by Indian Air Force has cost Air India dear. Since then, the airline has been spending Rs 6 crore a day for the extra distance that its flights to the US and Europe have to cover because of the restrictions.

“We are largely banking on new direct flights which we will be launching this year. No other airline offers direct connectivity and we hope to attract passengers on these new flights,” the official added.

Announcing the new direct flight to Toronto, Aviation minister Hardeep Puri tweeted “I am glad I was able to help in fulfilling this long pending demand of citizens of Guru Nagri & devotees who travel from North Americas to pay obeisance at Sri Harmandir Sahib, Durgiyana Mandir & other holy places. This flight will mark an auspicious beginning of a new journey."

With more than 80% of the seats going full, Air India is hopeful to increase the load factor to 90%. But new direct flights aren’t the only new strategy. The next step is to tackle the grounded 20 planes including both Boeing and Airbus fleet.

The aircraft were grounded because of lack of spare parts as the debt-ridden airline could not afford to buy engines. But funds have been released to the engineering division and 30 new engines are being procured.

Air India used to operate Toronto and Nairobi direct flights earlier too, but services were shut down in 2010 because of lack of traffic.

Pakistan extends airspace ban along its eastern border with India till June 28

ISLAMABAD, June 14: Pakistan on Thursday extended its airspace ban along its eastern border with India for the third time till June 28, according to a notice issued by the country’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA).

Pakistan fully closed its airspace on February 26 after the Indian Air Force fighter jets struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist training camp in Balakot following the Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir. The CAA notice issued to airmen (NOTAM) on Thursday says: “Pakistani airspace will be closed until June 28 along its eastern border with India. The Panjgoor airspace will remain open for overflying transit flights from the western side as Air India had already been using that airspace.”

A Pakistan government official said that since there has been no official communication between the two countries regarding opening of their airspace for each other the “status quo” will prevail. “See if some development takes place at the government’s level in this respect before June 28,” he said.

On Wednesday Pakistan gave a special permission to Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s VVIP flight to use its airspace for his official trip to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation summit in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan. However Prime Minister Modi’s VVIP aircraft avoided flying over Pakistan.

Earlier, Pakistan had allowed India’s former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to fly directly though Pakistani airspace to participate in the meeting of SCO foreign ministers in Bishkek on May 21. Since the latest round of Indo-Pak tensions, Pakistan has only opened two air routes, both of them pass through southern Pakistan, of the total 11. The IAF announced on May 31 that all temporary restrictions imposed on Indian airspace post the Balakot airstrike have been removed.

On May 15, Pakistan first extended the airspace ban till May 30. Then on May 30, it extended the ban till June 15. Now it has prolonged the airspace ban till June 28. As a result of the ban, foreign carriers using Indian airspace have been forced to take costly detours because they cannot fly over Pakistan. The closure mainly affects flights from Europe to Southeast Asia. The flights from Europe and the US flying in and out of New Delhi have been the worst hit.

Since Pakistan’s airspace closure, the airfare on many routes have gone up significantly, including Delhi-Kabul, Delhi-Moscow, Delhi-Tehran and Delhi-Astana.



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