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RAWALPINDI: Pakistan has fully reopened its airspace for all civilian traffic following months of restrictions imposed in the wake of a standoff with India in February.

“With immediate effect Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civil traffic on published ATS (Air Traffic Service) routes,” read a notice to airmen published on the Civil Aviation Authority’s website on Tuesday.

Pakistan had closed its airspace for all international and domestic flights after violation of its airspace by the Indian Air Force on Feb 26, 2019. While Pakistan partially reopened its airspace on March 1, the ban remained in place for Indian flights.

Due to the closure of airspace, more than 150 domestic flights including 110 national flag carriers’ domestic flights and 50 flights of private airlines were either cancelled or delayed. Also 50 international flights operating from Pakistan were affected.

The restrictions had caused huge losses to India, as hundreds of commercial and cargo flights had been affected each day, adding to flight time for passengers and fuel costs for airlines.

Earlier, Pakistan’s Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had said that due to the closure of the eastern side airspace, Pakistan’s losses were less when compared to India as Indian commercial flights had to take longer routes.

Pakistan had extended its ban for flights to India until June 28 though the airspace for three air routes for commercial flights had been open for overflying transit flights.

The Panjgur airspace remained open for overflying transit flights from the western side and Air India used that airspace. Pakistan also allowed then Indian external affairs minister Sushma Swaraj to use its airspace while she was travelling to Bishkek to attend the SCO summit on May 21.

The lifting of ban was announced just hours after the United Airlines Holdings Inc said it was extending the suspension of its flights from the United States to the Indian cities of Mumbai and Delhi until Oct 26, citing the continued Pakistani restriction, add Agencies.

As Indian operators were badly affected by the shutdown, Air India would take about a week to rework its schedule and come up with a plan to operate its flights over Pakistan, said spokesman for the company.

Air India had suffered losses of $71.6 million, India’s Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told lawmakers this month.

India’s civil aviation ministry said that after the lifting of the NOTAMS (a notice filed with an aviation authority to alert aircraft pilots of potential hazards along a flight route or at a location that could affect the safety of the flight), there were no further restrictions on airspace in either country.

“Flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing a significant relief for airlines,” it said.

The dropping of the restriction will not only benefit Indian airlines, but will also allow Pakistan to collect overflight fee from the airlines.

Published in Dawn, July 17th, 2019