About a month and a half after opening its airspace to all civilian traffic, Pakistan has threatened to close it again to flights taking off from India, apparently to punish New Delhi for removing the special status of Jammu and Kashmir. Fawad Chaudhry, a Minister considered close to Imran Khan, posted on Twitter Tuesday that the Prime Minister “is considering a complete closure of airspace to India” among other steps.
Pakistan had closed its airspace on February 26 after Indian Air Force warjets hit a terrorist camp in Balakot, and opened up to all civilian aircraft only on July 16.
Based on what happened during the four and a half months that Pakistan closed its airspace, this is how flying out of India might be impacted, should Imran Khan decide to go ahead with his threat.
Flight times for aircraft to and from India that normally use Pakistani airspace for transit are likely to increase by at least 70-80 minutes on average.
There are 11 air routes over Pakistan’s territory. On the earlier occasion, Pakistan had initially closed its entire airspace and then, from March onward, opened it partially.
These flights will have to fly south towards Gujarat or Maharashtra, and then turn right over the Arabian Sea on their way to destinations in Europe, North America, or West Asia.
The last time, Air India’s non-stop flights from Delhi to Chicago had a planned stoppage in Europe for refuelling. IndiGo’s flight from Delhi to Istanbul, which is the first non-stop flight on this route by an Indian carrier, was forced to make a refuelling stop at Doha.
SpiceJet, which was the only Indian airline flying the Delhi-Kabul route, had cancelled the flight.
Losses for airlines, costlier tickets
Indian carriers will suffer losses as flight times increase and more fuel is burnt. The last time around, Indian carriers lost a total of around Rs 700 crore due to the Pakistani action. The largest chunk of losses was suffered by flag carrier Air India.
For passengers, tickets could get more expensive, as airlines will look to pass on at least some of the increased costs to fliers.
Impact on Pakistan
But more than anyone else, it is Pakistan itself that will suffer. The last time it shut its airspace, the Pakistani Civil Aviation Authority took a blow of almost $50 million in revenue.
This is a sum that Pakistan can hardly afford, given the precarious state of its economy.
Its fiscal deficit was 8.9% of gross domestic product in the year ended June, compared with 6.6% a year earlier, Bloomberg reported Tuesday, quoting provisional numbers released by the Pakistani Finance Ministry. The deficit is now at its highest in nearly three decades, the report said.
The International Monetary Fund’s first quarterly review of a bailout programme for Pakistan is looming. Pakistan must increase government revenue by more than 40% in the fiscal year that began in July, as part of the conditions for the $6 billion loan, Bloomberg said. The loan from the IMF could be in jeopardy if the government continues to miss its revenue targets.
In this situation, voluntarily taking a hit by closing its airspace to India makes very little sense.