Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) temporarily restored Pakistani airspace for commercial aviation on Thursday, pledging to fully re-open it today after tensions with India saw it closed on Wednesday. The CAA in its latest Notice to Airmen (NOTAM) said the airspace would remain closed until 1 PM Pakistan Standard Time on Friday.
Thousands of air travellers were stranded worldwide and dozens of flights were forced to re-route around Pakistani airspace after the country closed air traffic over the country on Wednesday following escalating tensions with India which saw fighter jets shot down by both sides. But even when the airspace is reopened, carriers may be wary to resume flights over the conflict zone, bearing in mind the downing of Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 over an area of Ukraine occupied by Russia separatists.
At least three commercial flights belonging to Emirates, Air Arabia and Qatar Airways, departed from Pakistan on Thursday, according to reports.
A number of airlines including Air India, Jet Airways, Qatar Airways and Singapore Airlines Wednesday announced they were rerouting their flights as Pakistan closed its airspace.
Some, such as Thai Airways cancelled nearly 30 flights, affecting nearly 5,000 passengers. “All THAI flights from Bangkok to Europe departing near midnight of 27 FEB through early 28 FEB and from Europe to Bangkok departing on 27 FEB have been cancelled due to Pakistan airspace closure,” the airline wrote on its Twitter page. The carrier resumed flights on Thursday 28 after the carrier had asked for authorisation to fly over China’s airspace which was subsequently granted but on a daily basis only, the airline said.
The decision affected its services to London, Munich, Paris, Brussels, Milan, Vienna, Stockholm, Zurich, Copenhagen and Oslo.
Singapore Airlines, was forced to direct flights to Europe to re-fuel, while a flight to Frankfurt was cancelled. The carrier also noted that some of its flights from Singapore to London would have to stop in either Dubai or Mumbai to refuel.
Other carriers were also forced to refuel in Bucharest due to the routing around Pakistani airspace, including those flying from Bangkok (KLM, Air France, British Airways); Krabi, Thailand (Norwegian); and Ho Chi Minh City (Air France).
Aviation analyst Geoffrey Thomas was quoted by CNN as saying the route disruption was likely to cost airlines millions of dollars.
“It’s major corridor and this is a serious disruption as all traffic has been pushed much further south over the top of the Arabian gulf,” Thomas said. “You can’t go further north as you are then flying over the Himalayas – and you can’t do that. You’re locked into this corridor.”
Emirates also cancelled 10 return flights to Pakistan while Qatar Airways pulled flights to Peshawar, Faisalabad, Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore and Multan.
The Airports Authority of India (AAI) has said that due to the closure of Pakistani airspace, air traffic was significantly heavy over the Mumbai region on Wednesday night.