LAHORE: Pakistan on Wednesday extended its airspace ban for flights to India till May 30 as there has been no progress at the bilateral level in this respect. Foreign flights using Indian airspace are also not allowed to cross over Pakistan.
Pakistan had on Feb 26 fully closed its airspace following the violation of its international boundary and airspace by Indian fighter jets. In March, it partially opened its airspace but kept it banned for the Indian flights.
“Pakistan on Wednesday reviewed lifting of its airspace ban for Indian flights and decided to extend it till May 30,” an official of the Civil Aviation Authority told Dawn. The CAA, after the decision, issued NOTAM (notice to pilots) informing them about the flight/route guidelines (till May 30). “The government will again review the matter on May 30,” the official said.
Indian airlines paying heavy price
India had also banned its airspace for flights to Pakistan. “It has been more than two-and-a-half-months but there is no progress in lifting of the ban either by Pakistan or India. It is surprising that no backchannel diplomacy is used to show flexibility on this matter that is causing huge losses to both Indian and Pakistani flag carriers as well as foreign airlines,” an official said. He said banning airspace should be an international issue instead of a bilateral one.
Pakistan, however, blames India for not showing “flexibility” in this and other matters. “We do not want to walk on this confrontational path. We have asked India to talk to us on all issues including terrorism and Jammu Kashmir as we want their peaceful resolution,” Foreign Office spokesman Dr Mohammad Faisal told Dawn. He said India was rather showing aggression by closing the intra-Kashmir trade.
About bilateral lifting of the ban, Dr Faisal said: “We want de-escalation. If de-escalation takes place we would not like to have a ban [on our airspace for India] for a single day but for the purpose it [India] will have to talk to us. India should show rational behaviour and must understand that issues will not be resolved through confrontation.”
Replying to another question about use of back channel diplomacy, Dr Faisal said: “To my knowledge there is no backchannel diplomacy working [between the two countries] at the moment. In the past the backchannel diplomacy was used but it had a disconnect with the front channel thus failed to achieve desired results. So unless both back and front channels go side by side breakthrough in any matter is not possible.”
The PIA operations for Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi have been suspended since Feb 26, causing it a loss of millions of rupees per day. Before airspace ban by India, PIA operated four flights to Kuala Lumpur, two to Bangkok and two to New Delhi in a week. Similarly, the foreign airlines who were operating on these routes had to suspend their operations. Pakistani passengers now have to reach these destinations — Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok — by taking connecting flights from the Gulf.
The Indian aviation industry is facing much more losses than Pakistan. Besides Indian national and private airlines, a number of foreign airlines have to take longer routes to reach other destinations because of the ban on Pakistani airspace.
Airlines from central and west Asia now take much longer routes. For example, Delhi-Astana flight now takes three extra hours while Delhi to Moscow flight takes more than two additional hours.
Similarly, Delhi to Kabul and Delhi to Tehran flight duration has doubled. Thousands of passengers are facing longer flights and paying higher airfares.
According to Indian daily Economic Times, Air India which has suffered a loss of Rs 300 crore (Indian rupee) by the end of last month has approached the Indian aviation ministry for compensation.
Published in Dawn, May 16th, 2019