Pakistan has opened one of its 11 air routes for west-bound flights from India and Air India has started using it, said a senior central government official Saturday.
“Pakistan has been opening its airspace in tranches. On Thursday, it opened one of the 11 routes for west-bound flights. Therefore, airlines such as Air India and Turkish Airlines have started using it,” he said.
Even though the route P518 was opened on Thursday evening, American airline company United Airlines announced on Friday its flight connecting Newark and Delhi has been suspended for two weeks.
Pakistan had kept its airspace fully closed after Indian air strike in Balakot on February 26.
However, Pakistan on March 27, opened its airspace for all flights except for Bangkok, New Delhi and Kuala Lumpur.
“Since the route P518, that has been opened, passes over south Pakistan, the air travel time for west-bound flights from Delhi will not decrease substantially,” the official clarified.
Since February 26, many foreign airlines have suspended their Delhi-bound flights as it was commercially unviable for them to take a longer route through Mumbai airspace.
The operating cost for Air India, which flies to destinations in Europe and the US, has increased significantly as it had to take longer routes due to closure of Pakistani airspace.
The Delhi-Washington and Delhi-Chicago flights of the national carrier had been making a stop at Mumbai and Vienna for refuelling and change of crew.
Air India on March 15 requested its “inactive” crew members to “immediately” join work as the airline had been forced to cancel and reroute a number of US and Europe-bound flights due to closure of Pakistani airspace.
The airline had on March 14 announced it would combine the Mumbai-New York flight with its Mumbai-Newark flight from March 16 to May 31.
On March 13, it announced the suspension of flights on the Delhi-Madrid and Delhi-Birmingham routes from March 16 “till further notice” due to “operational reasons”.
Since Pakistan’s airspace closure, the airfare on many routes have gone up significantly, including Delhi-Kabul, Delhi-Moscow, Delhi-Tehran and Delhi-Astana.
An Afghanistan government official told Civil Aviation Secretary PS Kharola on April 3, at a public event in New Delhi, that the ticket price on Delhi-Kabul route and Kabul-Delhi route, which is usually around USD 300, has increased to around USD 700.
The Afghan official said two Indian airline companies — Air India and SpiceJet — have already stopped their Delhi-Kabul flights due to Pakistan airspace closure.