By: Hassaan Ahmed
Pakistan and India share a land border of 2,900 km. Similarly, just like the land border, the airspace above the Pakistan territorial waters in the south of the country is also a controlled air space.
Pakistan’s airspace is divided into two FIRs (Flight Information Regions) – Karachi and Lahore – with their ACC (Area Control Centers) in Karachi and Lahore respectively.
Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) provides navigational facilities to International flights that are either to or from Pakistan or are just flying over its airspace. The flights that do not stop over the country and use its airspace to reach their destinations are called en-route flights. En-route flights are a decent source of income for the PCAA.
Pakistani air space has faced complete and partial closure since February 26th, 2019 – after the air force skirmishes between India and Pakistan. The airspace was closed by the Pakistani authorities and was later notamized (NOTAM: Notice to Air Men) that the Indian side is reluctant to allow passage to any flights from its airspace to Pakistani airspace. The following NOTAM was issued by the PCAA:
Huge Losses on Both Sides
Not only are the civil aviation authorities of both countries incurring heavy losses, but the airlines are also suffering the most from this airspace closure.
Pakistan, due to its geographical position, provides a favorable, short and cheap route for flights originating from the Far East and India and heading to Europe, central Asia, and Russia. Similarly leading GCC carriers (Emirates, Qatar, Etihad) use Pakistani air space to route their flights towards Thailand, Singapore, India, and Malaysia.
After the closure of airspace, PCAA’s financial loss is estimated to reach Rs. 1.5 Billion (2). It has also been reported that ATC controllers in Mumbai FIR are working extra shifts to cope with heavy air traffic avoiding Pak airspace.
Among the airlines, Thai Air, PIA, Air India, and IndiGo have suffered the most. PIA has suffered a loss of approximately 1 billion rupees – roughly 70 million Rupees every single day since the airspace closure.
Air India uses its Boeing 777 fleet to provide nonstop flights to New York, Chicago and San Francisco while its 787 fleet provides nonstop flights to Europe using Pakistani airspace. The flight duration for these flights has increased by 2 to 3 hours. Moreover, they are forced to stop and refuel in Oman and Sharjah(3).
Thai Air has closed a number of its routes as it simply can’t afford a detour over the Indian Ocean from Bombay FIR. IndiGo’s Delhi-Istanbul direct flight has now become a one-stop flight via Doha for refueling of aircraft(4).
It is now required that the airspace is completely opened as early as possible. Not only is it essential for the aviation industry of both the countries but also to provide a sigh of relief to the international passengers who have to go through longer flights while paying higher than usual fares.