New Delhi: After a gap of five months, Pakistan finally opened its skies to Indian airlines on Tuesday, a move that had resulted in huge losses for Indian carriers. On Tuesday morning, while flying from San Francisco to Delhi — one of the longest air routes globally — the pilot of an Air India flight received a surprising message: "Pakistan airspace open for overflying." And that's how the Air India flight from the Golden Gate became the first Indian aircraft to fly over the newly opened Pakistani airspace.
A source from IndiGo said, "A senior Pakistan aviation official called our operations centre soon after Monday-Tuesday midnight to inform that airspace had reopened for overflying. We are holding meetings and doing safety risk assessment. Our target is to ensure that from Wednesday, the Delhi-Istanbul flights become a direct flight by flying over Pakistan, Afghanistan and Caspian Sea. This route will allow us to avoid flying over the waters of Iran along the Persian Gulf-Strait of Hormuz-Gulf of Oman (this directive has come from the US in the aftermath of the country imposing sanctions on Iran)."
Airlines — Air India, SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir — had together incurred losses to the tune of Rs 550 crore after Pakistan shut its airspace to India in the aftermath of the Balakot strike in February. After the closure of the airspace, airlines had to re-route, merge or suspend many of its international flights that connect India with European cities and the United States.
Air India, which the government is set to disinvest soon, was the worst-hit because increased expenses on longer flights came at a time when it has already been incurring losses running into crores on an everyday basis.
To put this into context, consider this fact: the Air India flight which was flying from San Francisco landed at least 1.5 hours ahead of schedule in Delhi because it came via Pakistani airspace.