Karachi: Pakistan suffered a whopping $50 million loss after it closed its airspace with India for nearly five months following the Balakot airstrikes in February, according to the country’s aviation minister, who underlined that Islamabad’s action hit New Delhi “harder.”
Pakistan fully closed its airspace on 26 February after the Indian Air Force (IAF) struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed terrorist training camp in Balakot in retaliation for the Pulwama attack carried out by a suicide bomber of Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammed terror outfit.
While India removed some airspace restrictions later, Pakistan kept the ban in place along its eastern border with India for nearly five months, leading to increased flight time for passengers and huge fuel costs to airlines.
Pakistan opened its airspace for all civilian traffic on Tuesday early morning, removing the ban on Indian flights that were not allowed to use the majority of its airspace since the Balakot airstrikes.
Pakistan’s minister for Aviation Ghulam Sarwar Khan said on Thursday that the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) suffered a loss of Rs 8.5 billion ($50 million) because of airspace restrictions since February in the wake of the “Indian aggression.” “It’s a huge loss for our overall (aviation) industry,” he was quoted as saying by the Dawn newspaper.
The airspace closure disrupted Indian flights headed west. It also forced Pakistan International Airlines to suspend some of its flights, and effectively closed off major international routes in and out of Islamabad and Lahore.
“But this restriction hit India harder than Pakistan. The loss of India is almost double. But at this juncture detente and harmony are required from both sides,” Khan said at a press conference at the CAA headquarters here.
Pakistan Aviation Secretary Shahrukh Nusrat had earlier informed a parliamentary panel that Pakistan would not withdraw the ban until India removed its fighter jets from forwarding bases.
The lifting of the airspace restrictions, days ahead of Prime Minister Imran Khan’s first visit to the US, would be a major relief to Air India, which suffered a financial loss of over Rs 400 crores as it had to re-route various international flights.
Air India suffered a loss of Rs 430 crore in the four-month period when air space was restricted by Pakistan after the Balakot airstrikes, Civil Aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri informed the Rajya Sabha on Wednesday.
Between February 26 and July 15, Pakistan opened only two routes out of 11 for Indian flights. These two routes passed over southern Pakistan.
Air India had to re-route, merge or suspend many of its international flights that connect India with European and US cities.
“The flying time for long-haul flights towards the USA increased by 90 minutes and additional fuel was needed. US-bound flights had to be stopped at Vienna,” an Air India spokesperson said this week, explaining the effect the airspace closure had on the national flag carrier.
IndiGo, India’s largest airline by domestic market share, was unable to start direct flights from Delhi to Istanbul due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace.
The low-cost carrier started flying the Delhi-Istanbul route in March. It had to take the longer route over the Arabian Sea and make a stop at Doha in Qatar for refuelling.