Pakistan willing to open airspace, puts rider

New Delhi: Losing heavily on overflying charges, Pakistan is keen to remove airspace restriction for airlines flying to and from India provided the latter decreases army build-up on the border between the two neighbouring countries. In the wake of escalating tension following an airstrike by Indian Air Force in Balakot last February, Pakistan had restricted its airspace for airlines to and from India.

“Pakistan is incurring huge loss due to airspace restriction. Now that general election is over, it wants India to de-escalate tension on the border. If that happens, it is keen to remove airspace restriction,” said a senior official aware of the development.

Pakistan had earlier said that use of its airspace would remain restricted until May 30 and a further decision on it would be taken after re-assessing the overall situation. The Islamic country had made a rare exception last week allowing the plane flying External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to fly directly through Pakistani airspace to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) meet in Bishkek last week.

The restriction has been hurting India carriers too as they have to take long detours to reach destinations in Europe, US and Canada. The diversion of long-haul flights costing national carrier Air India dearly. The airline is learnt to be losing Rs 6 crore daily on account of diversion of its US and Europe-bound flights.

Emphatically noting that the airline was doing national duty in spite of adverse operating environment, a senior Air India official said it was ironical that the government was selling off the carrier. “We have always served the nation. When other carriers withdraw flights citing commercial viability, Air India has continued operations. The government must re-think over its decision to sell the airline,” the official said.

“Not only that, the Air India deal is being sweetened for private parties interested in buying the carrier,” he added. The Air India flights to the US from Delhi now takes 2-3 hours extra one-way due to restrictions over Pakistani airspace. Flights to Europe are taking almost two hours more resulting in financial loss.

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