New Delhi: Airlines that have to re-route their flights after Pakistan shut its airspace face rising costs in their international operations because of longer flight durations and disruption in flight schedules, company executives said on Wednesday.
Flights bound for Europe and the Gulf region now have to fly through India’s west coast and the Arabian Sea. This, an airline executive said, adds at least one hour of flying time to these flights. “Costs will obviously go up," an executive at an Indian carrier with overseas operations said on condition of anonymity.
Another senior executive at an airline with international operations said the extra travel time affects flight schedules, cost of refreshments and the entire cost structure of the airline. “If the flight restrictions over Pakistan continue, airlines may be forced to pass on the extra cost to consumers," another executive said on condition of anonymity.
In a statement, Air India said that flights from Delhi to the US and Europe and back are being rerouted through Ahmedabad and Mumbai. “Flights landing into India from the USA and Europe are being diverted to Dubai and Sharjah due to technical requirements and will land with a delay," said the state-run airline, adding that flights are not being cancelled despite the delay.
Air India, Air India Express, IndiGo, Jet Airways and SpiceJet fly to overseas destinations from India in a market dominated by foreign carriers.
Earlier in the day, India suspended operations temporarily at the Srinagar, Leh, Pathankot and Dharamshala airports amid escalating tension with Pakistan. India later confirmed that a MiG-21 BISON had been lost with the pilot “missing in action". Pakistan has claimed his custody. The suspension was withdrawn subsequently and flights were operating by evening, but with delays. Airlines as well as ticketing websites advised customers to recheck their flight timings before leaving for the airport.
Civil aviation minister Suresh Prabhu said he has reviewed the current airspace restrictions with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) member handling air navigation systems in view of the current situation. “I assure you that we are working out modalities so that the air passengers are least inconvenienced," said Prabhu in a tweet.
An analyst tracking the sector said that the cost of extra flight duration as a share of total duration of a long-haul flight might not be significant enough for a big rise in fare to and from India. However, it remained to be seen how long flight restrictions over Pakistan’s airspace would continue, the analyst said on condition of anonymity.
Several airlines cancelled flights on Wednesday. Vistara, a joint venture between Tata Sons Ltd and Singapore Airlines Ltd, said in a tweet that due to airspace restrictions, flights to and from Amritsar, Srinagar, Chandigarh and Jammu were cancelled on Wednesday.
International airlines said their services to Pakistan had been suspended. Qatar Airways said in a statement its flights to Faisalabad, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Multan, Peshawar and Sialkot had been suspended.
“Other flights routed over India-Pakistan aerospace may also experience delays due to rerouting around the affected area," the airline added. Etihad Airways and Bahrain’s national carrier, Gulf Air, too suspended their flights to Pakistan.
Rhik Kundu in Mumbai contributed to this story.