Pakistan’s Airspace Ban Costs Air India Crores, Passengers Extra Time
The airspace ban over Pakistan which began on February 27, a day after India targeted a Jaish-e-Mohammed terror camp in Balakot in Pakistan, is costing national carrier Air India dearly. As a result of longer flights, which have had to become one-stop operations, the airline has bled more than Rs. 60 crore so far. And that number is going up every day – potentially disastrous news for the cash-strapped airline which is surviving on government bailouts.
Air India flights travelling west can no longer fly through Pakistani airspace and need to swing south across Gujarat and then cut across the Arabian sea to reach their destinations in Europe and North America. The most problematic flights for Air India are flights between India and the US East coast – Washington, New York, Newark and also Chicago.
These flights can no longer operate non-stop and have had to stop at either Sharjah or Vienna to refuel. Each refuelling halt, mandatory on both the outbound and return legs, costs the airline Rs. 50 lakh on an average. With the airline having to position crew and engineers in Vienna, Air India has lost approximately Rs. 60 crore till March 16.
With losses rising with every flight, Air India has now cut its Vienna stop-over to just two flights while other flights are being refuelled in Mumbai. But this too is problematic since refuelling flights bound for North America in Mumbai comes with payload penalties. Essentially, there are restrictions which are placed on the number of passengers each jet can carry. If an airliner carries less, the airline earns less as well on each affected sector.
For passengers, the biggest concern is the time taken. Ultra-long-haul flights, a highlight of Air India’s operations since it inducted the Boeing 777-300ER and Boeing 777-200LR aircraft, now take up to four hours longer per sector. This means that flights to the United States can now last more than 18 hours inclusive of the refuelling halt.
Air India’s Boeing 787-800 “Dreamliner” service to Europe has also been hit by the Pakistani airspace ban. The airline has cancelled flights to Birmingham and Madrid because it needs an extra pilot on board to cater for the longer flights. Each flight to European destinations is presently about two hours longer than it was earlier