NEW DELHI: Pakistan’s airspace restrictions for commercial flights since 27 February following the border tensions with India, have kept the Army on high alert, while airlines operating in India battle a sharp rise in operational expenses.
Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority on Monday extended its restriction on airspace for all overflying (transit) flights till Tuesday. The civil aviation regulator has been extending the curbs frequently since the border flare- up. Only Pakistani airlines and some Gulf airlines flying to Pakistan have been allowed to use the airspace. The curbs have led other airlines, including Indian companies, to cancel several flights and take longer routes, adding to their operating expenses.
“We are waiting for Pakistan to lift the restrictions. The curbs on overflying is exhausting additional work hours of pilots and the crew," said an Indian government official on condition of anonymity.
A second official, who also did not want to be named, said the restrictions were entirely on account of military reasons.
As Pakistan keeps its airspace closed since the Indian Air Force bombed a terrorist camp in Balakot on 26 February, the operating cost for Air India—which flies to destinations in Europe and the US—has increased, as it is having to take longer routes. The airline had to divert its flights from Delhi to the US over Mumbai, adding more than a couple of hours to flying time. It has suspended flights on the Delhi-Madrid and Delhi-Birmingham routes since 16 March till further notice, due to what the airline said were operational reasons.
Budget airline SpiceJet Ltd has suspended its daily flight to Kabul due to the restrictions over Pakistan airspace. The restrictions are affecting several international airlines too.
The situation has kept the ministry of defence and the Indian Air Force on a state of high alert. “We are ready to thwart any security threat," said a third government official, who also declined to be named.
In a notice to airmen posted on its website, Pakistan’s civil aviation regulator has warned airlines about what it referred to as intense military flying at Multan airfield. The Financial Times reported on Monday that Pakistan’s restrictions on airspace has forced international airlines to take costly and time-consuming detours, and it was due to fears that India may launch another attack. The report, quoting a Pakistani government official, said that there can be no compromise on an issue relating to national security.
Last month, India had said that its Air Force targeted and destroyed a terrorist training camp at Balakot in the Khyber Pakhtunkhwa province of Pakistan. Subsequently, Pakistan had released Indian Air Force pilot Wing Commander Abhinandan Varthaman, who was captured by the Pakistan Army after his aircraft was shot down.