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Aviation sector counts cost of Pakistan airspace closure

02 May 2019 Ben Vogel

Key points:

  • Closure of airspace in Pakistan, following the February 2019 military confrontation in Kashmir with India, continues to disrupt civil aviation. Carriers operating from Europe and the US to Southeast Asia are particularly hard hit, and more than 310 scheduled flights from Southeast Asia to Europe have been affected
  • Pakistani airspace is closed for almost all overflights until 15 May at the earliest, except for just 11 airways specified by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) on 23 April. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to advise airlines to avoid flying into or over Pakistan, given risks posed by "extremist and militant activities".
  • Indian and Pakistani airlines are suffering. Pakistani flag carrier PIA has had to reschedule or cancel multiple international and domestic flights, but the consequences are more severe for the larger Indian air transport sector. Air India, which on a weekly basis operates 33 services to the US and 66 to destinations in Europe, has already lost around USD50 million from route rescheduling.
  • Unforeseen geopolitical influences always have the potential to cause havoc with the global interconnected airline industry, but the effects of the Kashmir-related disruption go beyond flight delays and higher financial costs. Flight diversions around Pakistani airspace are also leading to increased fuel burn and higher greenhouse gas emissions, at precisely the time when the civil aviation sector is attempting to reduce its environment footprint.

Commentary

Closure of airspace in Pakistan, following the February 2019 military confrontation in Kashmir with India, continues to disrupt civil aviation. Carriers operating from Europe and the US to Southeast Asia are particularly hard hit, and more than 310 scheduled flights from Southeast Asia to Europe have been affected.

Pakistani airspace is closed for almost all overflights until 15 May at the earliest, except for just 11 airways specified by the Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority (PCAA) on 23 April. Most of these routes connect China and Iran, but the PCAA only permits one overflight connecting Iran and India. The US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) continues to advise airlines to avoid flying into or over Pakistan.

Aircraft from Europe that used to fly over Pakistan are now routed south of the country via Oman, before returning to their pre-diversion flight paths. This re-routing adds about 450 km to a London-Singapore flight, and about 660 km to a Paris-Bangkok journey. Fares are steadily increasing on these and other long-haul routes, as airlines try to offset higher operational costs. Meanwhile, the Indian and Pakistani air navigation authorities have suffered a loss of overflight revenues.

Peter Foster, CEO of Kazakh flag carrier Air Astana, said the airline has cancelled its 11 weekly flights to Delhi until the end of May. A flight from Delhi to Almaty, which should take 3.5 hours, now exceeds eight hours. Virgin Atlantic has had to add three hours to its London-Delhi flights, causing considerable disruption for transit passengers, and adding to the cost burden for the airline as it pays for hotel stays. United has suspended its Delhi-Newark flight temporarily, and Lufthansa cautioned in February (when the Kashmir tensions flared) that flights to Bangkok and Singapore would be hit, as well as routes to India.

In the meantime, Indian and Pakistani airlines are suffering. Pakistani flag carrier PIA has had to reschedule or cancel multiple international and domestic flights, but the consequences are more severe for the larger Indian air transport sector. Air India, which on a weekly basis operates 33 services to the US and 66 to destinations in Europe, has already lost around USD50 million from route rescheduling. Budget carrier IndiGo, which operates a flight to Istanbul, must now make a fuel stop. The sole Delhi-Kabul flight, operated by SpiceJet, has been suspended.

On the other hand, geography has been kind to Oman as a spike in overflight traffic is delivering higher revenues from en route charges. Many operators of long-haul flights are following the example of Air Astana by stopping at Omani airports to refuel.

Unforeseen geopolitical influences always have the potential to cause havoc with the global interconnected airline industry, but the effects of the Kashmir-related disruption go beyond flight delays and higher financial costs. Flight diversions around Pakistani airspace are also leading to increased fuel burn and higher greenhouse gas emissions, at precisely the time when the civil aviation sector is attempting to reduce its environmental footprint.

A version of this text appears in Jane's Airport Review.

Posted 02 May 2019 by Ben Vogel, Editor, Jane's Airport Review, Jane's by IHS Markit

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