KARACHI: Pakistan yesterday fully reopened its airspace for all civilian traffic, ending months of restrictions affecting major international routes including from India after clashes between the nuclear-armed rivals brought them to the brink of war. “With immediate effect Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civil traffic,” the state-run Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) said. A CAA spokesman confirmed to AFP that the eastern airspace along the border with India had been reopened.
Pakistan closed its airspace completely after aerial dogfights in February ratcheted up tensions between Islamabad and New Delhi. It removed some restrictions a month later but kept constraints in place along its eastern border with India. The closure disrupted Indian flights headed west, forced Pakistan International Airlines to suspend some of its flights, and effectively closed off major international routes in and out of Islamabad and Lahore, such as the Thai Airways route from Islamabad to Bangkok.


The crisis between the countries was first sparked by a suicide bombing in Indian-administered Kashmir in February that killed 40 security personnel and was later claimed by the Pakistan-based Jaish-e-Mohammad. Days later India responded with a cross-border air raid on Pakistan that kicked off a quick succession of attacks and dogfights between the archrivals over the disputed Kashmir frontier, spurring fears of all-out war.


India’s ministry of civil aviation said that after the lifting of the so-called Notice to Airmen (NOTAM), there were no further restrictions on airspace in either country. “Flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing a significant relief for airlines,” it said. Flights between Europe and Southeast Asia were forced further south, adding as much as 450 km to some journeys and forcing the cancellation of some routes.
“Pakistan being open again makes the traditional and preferred Europe-Asia route through Afghanistan, Pakistan and onwards to India available again, and means that city pairs abandoned after the February shutdown will likely be restarted,” OPSGROUP, which provides guidance to operators, said in a note. Indian operators were badly affected by the shutdown. An Air India spokesman said the company would take about a week to rework its schedule and come up with a plan to operate its flights over Pakistan.


Air India suffered losses of 4.91 billion rupees ($71.6 million), India’s aviation minister Hardeep Singh Puri told lawmakers this month. Interglobe Aviation Ltd controlled Indigo Airlines, India’s largest by market share, incurred a loss of 251 million rupees due to the closure of the Pakistani airspace, while Spicejet Ltd incurred losses of 307.3 million rupees, Puri said.


Pakistan’s announcement came hours after United Airlines Holdings Inc said it was extending the suspension of its flights from the United States to Delhi and Mumbai in India until Oct 26, citing continued the Pakistani restriction. The dropping of the restriction will allow Pakistan, which this month agreed to a $6 billion bailout with the International Monetary Fund, to collect overflight fees from airlines.


Pakistani and Indian soldiers have continued to fire over the Line of Control, the de facto border dividing Kashmir, killing several civilians on both sides. Kashmir has been divided between India and Pakistan since the end of British colonial rule in 1947. Both claim the Himalayan territory in full and have fought two wars over it. – Agencies