New Delhi: Air links between India and Pakistan — which include direct flights between the two countries and allowing airlines of one country to fly over the other — have now come under the scanner of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
The Modi government is examining whether these should be allowed to continue post the Uri attack, as part of its multi-pronged strategy that involves reviewing the Indus Waters Treaty with Pakistan and also reconsidering the most favoured nation status (MFN) given to the country by India in 1996.
While no Indian carrier flies to Pakistan, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) has five flights a week to India — one on Delhi-Karachi route and two each on Delhi-Lahore and Mumbai-Karachi sectors. Overflying is clearly the more critical part for airlines of both countries. At the moment, almost all flight operated by Indian carriers between Gulf, Europe and North America on the one hand and central, north and east India on the other fly over Pakistan. Similarly, PIA flies over India to Southeast Asia and Bangladesh.
“The PMO has sought all details of aviation sector between India and Pakistan. They even asked if the ban on low overflying over Karachi had affected Indian flights. We have given all details as sought by them and a final decision will be taken by the PMO,” said a source.
After the Parliament attack in 2001 aviation ties between the two countries wee snapped and Air India and erstwhile Indian Airlines — the only Indian carriers operating international flights — did not overfly the ‘enemy’ airspace.
As a result, Indian flights to the west had to take a longer detour either going to Ahmedabad and then the Arabian Sea towards the Gulf and beyond. This increased the flying time to west by up to 1.5 hours. The longer flights also meant that on certain routes, AI and ISA had to carry two sets of pilots as flights of obver 10-hour duration need to be operated by two sets in rotation.
“The impact of airspace closure, if that were to happen, will be much more this time as four Indian carriers — AI, Jet, IndiGo and SpiceJet fly to the west over Pakistan on many of their flights. The diversion will mean taking longer detours, more fuel burn, increased flying time which will lead to cost escalation for airlines. This will be passed on to consumers in form of higher fares. However, whatever needs to be done in national interest will be done and no one will grudge that. It is country first for every Indian,” said a senior airline official.