Pakistan has for the second time extended the closure of its airspace along its eastern border with India until June 15, according to the country's civil aviation authority as no progress has been made bilaterally to lift the restrictions imposed after the Balakot airstrike. Pakistan fully closed its airspace in February after an Indian Air Force strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terror camp in Balakot. On March 27, it opened its airspace for all flights except for New Delhi, Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur. On May 15, Pakistan extended its airspace ban for flights to India till May 30.
According to a notice issued to airmen (NOTAM) by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), Pakistan's airspace along the eastern border with India will remain closed until 5 am (local time) on June 15. As per a separate NOTAM issued by the CAA, the Panjgoor airspace would remain open for overflying transit flights from the western side as Air India had already been using that airspace.
Pakistan had given a special permission to India for External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to fly directly through Pakistani airspace to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Bishkek, Kyrgyzstan, on May 21. However, the airspace for other commercial airliners remained closed.
Due to the ban, foreign carriers using Indian airspace have been forced to take costly detours because they cannot fly over Pakistan. The closure mainly affects flights from Europe to Southeast Asia. The flights from US and Europe flying in and out of New Delhi are the worst hit. Thousands of travellers suffer flight cancellations, delays and soaring ticket prices due to Pakistan's decision to close its airspace for flights to and from India.
Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan had said that due to closure of eastern side airspace, Pakistan was suffering from less loss compared to India as Indian commercial flights had to take longer routes for Europe.
India had also banned its airspace for flights to Pakistan. It has been more than two-and-a-half-months but there is no progress in lifting of the ban either by Pakistan or India. It is surprising that no back channel diplomacy is used to show flexibility on this matter that is causing huge losses to both Indian and Pakistani flag carriers as well as foreign airlines, a Pakistani official said. He said banning airspace should be an international issue instead of a bilateral one.
Pakistan blames India for showing no flexibility in this matter and other matters. "We do not want to walk on this confrontational path. We have asked India to talk to us on all issues including terrorism and Kashmir as we want their peaceful resolution, Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal had told reporters early this month.
About bilateral lifting of the ban, Faisal said, "We want de-escalation. If de-escalation takes place we would not like to have a ban (on our airspace for India) for a single day but for the purpose it (India) will have to talk to us. India should show rational behaviour and must understand that issues will not be resolved through confrontation".
The Pakistan International Airlines' (PIA) operations for Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and New Delhi have been suspended since February 26, causing a loss of millions of rupees per day. Before the airspace ban by India, PIA operated four flights to Kuala Lumpur, two to Bangkok and two to New Delhi per week. Similarly, the foreign airlines who were operating on these routes had to suspend their operations.
For Pakistani passengers to reach these destinations - Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok -, they have to take connecting flights from the Gulf.Airlines from central and west Asia now take much longer routes. For example, Delhi-Astana flight now takes three extra hours while Delhi to Moscow flight takes more than two additional hours.