The current ordeal of traveling extra hours on long-haul Air India flights between USA and India is likely to end, as the ban on flights to and from India through the Pak airspace may be lifted soon. In a meeting held yesterday to discuss the pros and cons of opening its airspace for air traffic to and from India, the government of Pakistan decided to continue restricting its airspace for airlines flying to and from India until May 30.
Surprisingly, the decision to lift or not to lift the Pak airspace ban for Air India and other airlines corresponds to the outcome of India’s Lok Sabha Elections 2019. Pakistan’s aviation and defence ministries concluded the meeting giving a flicker of hope about revoking the airspace ban for India by this month end.
Media reports quoted Pakistan’s science and technology minister saying that the Pak airspace restriction for India will be continued unless the Indo-Pak status quo improves, and that the Indo-Pak relations will remain edgy until the Lok Sabha Elections 2019 are over and a new government of India is formed.
Since the airspace closure by India and Pakistan for each other, in the aftermath of the Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir in February 2019, the civil aviation of both the countries has been suffering huge losses. Air India alone has been making an Rs-6-crore loss on its daily international flights due to the increased flight duration, extra fuel consumption, low seat occupancy rate, and cancellations.
Since the Pak airspace ban came into effect, Air India has suffered a setback of Rs. 300-crore loss. It is just another blow to the debt-ridden Air India, especially when the airline is stripped of capital to make its debt repayments worth 9000 crore in the current fiscal. Usually, Air India flights from USA to India get reservation for 70-80% of the total seats, which has dipped in last two months.
Usually, nonstop Air India flights to New Delhi from New York, Newark, Chicago, San Francisco and Washington DC take 14 to 16 hours. The continued Pak airspace ban has compelled the national carrier of India to route its US-India flights through the airspace of Oman and Iran, thereby increasing the flight time by a few additional hours and incurring a financial loss to the airline.
Not only Air India, but other airlines such as Lufthansa and British Airways have suffered a setback when it comes to flying to or from India. United Airlines has temporarily revoked its service from Newark to Delhi and Mumbai, India. Air India being a government entity has several obligations to continue operating daily flights to North America and Europe despite the current hurdles including the Pak airspace closure resulting in an overwhelming loss.
The Pak airspace ban for India resulted in an influx of calls requesting flight scheduling or cancellation for US-India travel. The stagnation of India’s civil aviation in the international segment has been accentuated by Jet Airways’ bankruptcy and downfall. Anyway, the possible lifting of the Pak airspace ban for India is like a silver lining behind every dark cloud, said the chief travel specialist of IndianEagle.com, a leading air travel booking portal.
Recently, Air India has grounded 16% of its fleet, which is equal to 20 aircraft out of the total 127, due to the lack of fund for replacement of their outdated engines. The non-operational aircraft comprises mostly A320s, Boeing 787 and Boeing 777. As much as $72 million or Rs. 1500 crore is required to lend a new lease of life to put the grounded aircraft back on runway.