Per day 400 flights affected; Air India facing loss of Rs 5-7 crore

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After Balakot airstrikes on February 26, Pakistan banned its airspace for all Indian flights. Pakistan on Wednesday extended this ban from May 30 to June 15. Around 400 flights per day are affected due to the closure of Pakistani airspace. Several Central Asian airlines providing connectivity to Europe and the United States from Southeast Asia were forced to cancel their flights due to the ban. On account of this Air India is facing a daily loss of Rs 5-7 crore as its flights towards Europe and the US are forced to take a longer route. Moreover, these flights make a stop en route for refuelling. The longer routes required to avoid flying over Pakistan are compelling airlines to burn more fuel and money. In the meantime, fuel for international flights became 2.5% more expensive.

IndiGO launched its longest route Delhi-Istanbul on March 20. But instead of being a direct flight as planned, the closure of Pakistan airspace has forced it to operate with a fuelling stop, which forces IndiGo to burn an extra 2,500-3,000 kg of fuel each way.

SpiceJet’s flights between Delhi and the Gulf have been affected. Its Delhi-Kabul flight has been cancelled since the closure of the airspace.

These flights can no longer operate non-stop and have had to stop at either Sharjah or Vienna to refuel. Each refuelling halt, mandatory on both the outbound and return legs, costs the airline Rs. 50 lakh on an average. With the airline having to position crew and engineers in Vienna, Air India has lost approximately Rs. 60 crore till March 16.

The government-owned Airports Authority of India (AAI) operates 126 airports and civil enclaves out of a total of 449 airports and airstrips located throughout India. 100 airports/aerodromes receive regular commercial flights. The cities of Bengaluru, Delhi, Hyderabad, Kochi and Mumbai are served by privately (or joint-venture) operated airports. Airports in India handled over 341 million passengers in 2018. India is the third largest domestic civil aviation market in the world behind the US and China.