In a big relief to Indian and international airlines, Pakistan on Tuesday opened its airspace for all civilian air traffic, lifting nearly five-month-long ban that was imposed after the Balakot air strikes.
The move will give relief to international airlines as well as Air India, which suffered a huge financial loss of around Rs 491 crore as it had to re-route its various international flights due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace.
Pakistan's Civil Aviation Authority issued a notice to airmen (NOTAM) at around 12.41 am Indian Standard Time, stating that 'with immediate effect Pakistan airspace is open for all type of civil traffic on published ATS (air traffic service) routes'.
After lifting of the ban, Air India flights AI 184 as well as AI 784 --coming from San Francisco-- were among the first flights by an Indian carrier to pass through Pakistan airspace on Tuesday.
"The pilot on AI 184 came to know about the opening of Pakistan airspace while en-route from San Francisco. The flight landed in Delhi at around 7 am in the morning," an Air India official said.
Welcoming Pakistan's decision, Air India said its operation costs for one-way US and Europe-bound flights are likely to come down by Rs 20 lakh and Rs 5 lakh, respectively while IndiGo, India's largest airline by domestic market share, stated that it is 'pleased' with the opening of Pakistan airspace and its flights flying via Pakistan 'will operate as normal after all regulatory clearances'.
Following Pakistan's move, India also issued a "revised NOTAM", announcing that normal air traffic operations have resumed between the two countries.
"Consequent to Pakistan issuing NOTAM to lift all airspace restrictions, relevant authorities have informed that India has also issued revised NOTAM immediately thereafter. With this, normal air traffic operations have resumed through all Flight Information Regions between India and Pakistan," a government source told PTI.
Hours later, India's Civil Aviation ministry said flights had started using the closed air routes, bringing great relief to airlines and air passengers.
'After cancellation of NOTAMS by Pakistan and India in the early hours today, there are no restrictions on airspaces of both countries, flights have started using the closed air routes, bringing a significant relief for airlines,' the Twitter handle of the ministry said.
"This is great news. A big relief to air passengers," it added.
Earlier during the day, sources told PTI,"Pakistan has permitted all airlines to fly through its airspace from around 12.41 am today. Indian airline operators will start using normal routes through Pakistan airspace soon."
Pakistan fully closed its airspace on February 26 after the Indian Air Force (IAF) struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist training camp in Balakot in retaliation for the Pulwama attack on February 14. The neighbouring country only opened two of 11 routes after that, both passing through the southern region.
On its part, the IAF announced on May 31 that all temporary restrictions imposed on Indian airspace post the Balakot strike have been removed. However, this did not benefit most commercial airliners and they were waiting for Pakistan to fully open its airspace.
While the national carrier lost Rs 491 crore till July 2 due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace, private airlines SpiceJet, IndiGo and GoAir lost Rs 30.73 crore, Rs 25.1 crore and Rs 2.1 crore respectively, according to data presented by Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri in the Rajya Sabha on July 3.
Following the air strike, Air India had to re-route, merge or suspend many of its international flights that connect India with European and US cities.
IndiGo, India's largest airline by domestic market share, was unable to start direct flights from Delhi to Istanbul due to the closure of the Pakistan airspace.The low-cost carrier started flying the Delhi-Istanbul route in March. It had to take the longer route over the Arabian Sea and make a stop at Doha in Qatar for refuelling.
Pakistan Aviation Secretary Shahrukh Nusrat had earlier informed a parliamentary panel that Pakistan would not move the ban until India removed its jets from the forward bases.