Pakistan closed its entire airspace on February 27, 2019. Since then, they have opened the airspace up for very few flights. Every day, they delay the opening of their airspace for overflying flight, and there is no schedule at the moment about when will be the international aviation community be able to use Pakistan’s airspace again.
The prolonged closure has significant implications for many carriers that overfly Pakistan to fly west, especially Air India. Air India operates more than 100 weekly flights to the USA and Europe combined, and all of them used to fly over Pakistan. Ever since the airspace closed, all these flights were affected. Flights to the USA became one-stop, initially via Sharjah (for refuelling), and then via Vienna recently.
According to Business Standard, Air India was incurring a daily loss of INR 3 crores due to the longer flight route and also the technical stop. But as the opening up of the airspace is now a moving target, Air India has rejigged its earlier strategy to minimise the financial impact.
Flights to Europe
Air India’s flights to Europe from Delhi travel all the way to the Mumbai waypoint, and continue over UAE to Europe to avoid Pakistan airspace. This has increased the travel journey by over an hour each way.
Flights to the USA
Flights to the USA are affected even more, as almost all outbound flights have to make a technical stop for refuelling. In the initial days of airspace closure, all outbound flights to the USA had a technical stop at Sharjah instead of operating non-stop. The inbound journey would operate nonstop.
AI 173/174 and AI 183/184 Delhi-San Francisco
Air India operates 9x weekly flights on Delhi-San Francisco route split between 6x weekly AI 173/174 and 3x weekly AI 183/184. Air India used to anyways fly the outbound flight to San Francisco over the Pacific.
But the inbound flights to Delhi from San Francisco uses a longer route as they fly over UAE, enter India through Mumbai airspace and then go North to Delhi. The detour has increased the flying time to ~18 hours. Air India usually operates the route with a Boeing 777-200LR which is meant for such ultra long haul routes.
But sometimes a Boeing 777-300ER is rostered, and it has to make a technical stop at Sharjah for refuelling.
AI 127/126 Delhi – Chicago and AI 101/102 Delhi – New York JFK
Air India, during the initial days of Pakistan airspace closure, used Sharjah as a technical stop for AI 127 to Chicago and AI 101 to New York JFK from Delhi. But as Sharjah was proving to be expensive and inconvenient for Air India, Air India shifted the stop to Vienna at least till April 30, 2019.
There will also be a crew change at Vienna who will then operate the second leg of the journey, Vienna-Chicago/JFK on the next day.
AI 103/104 Delhi – Washington DC
Air India operates a 3x weekly Boeing 777-300ER service between Delhi – Washington DC. Due to the Pakistan Airspace closure, AI 103 to Washington DC will now have a technical stop at Mumbai instead of Sharjah while AI 104 will operate nonstop to Delhi but will take a longer route just like all the inbound USA/Europe flights to Delhi.
AI 144/191 Mumbai – New York Newark
Air India will operate Mumbai – New York Newark route nonstop but with payload, restrictions to compensate for the longer route. The schedule is as follows:
AI191 BOM0130 – 0815EWR
AI144 EWR1415 – 1410(+1)BOM
Air India had launched a three times weekly Mumbai – New York JFK route back in December 2018. But due to the closure, Air India seems to be unable to operate the route due to constraints and have merged it with AI191/AI144 between March 16 and May 30, 2019.
Booking for non-stop Mumbai- New York JFK route on AI 105/106 is only open from June 2, 2019.
Air India has also cancelled a few flights to Europe as well, which include Delhi – Madrid – Delhi service, Delhi – Birmingham – Delhi and Amritsar – Birmingham – Amritsar service. It may be due to combinations of a few reasons. Since Air India has to take a longer route, the economics may not be working out for these flights.
It also could be, that due to the increased block time on all flights to Europe, Air India won’t have a spare operational aircraft for the regular roster, plus crew shortage. Air India has 5 Boeing 787-8 grounded out of its fleet of 27 Boeing 787-8 for quite some time now.
Air India is only offering a refund for the cancelled flights and no alternative flights for their ‘valued’ passengers. Wow.
The prolonged closure of Pakistan airspace, with no opening in sight, is taking its toll on Air India, which anyways finds it tough to make ends meet. Other airlines are impacted as well, but Air India more so, due to their extensive network and Delhi being the hub of their operations. Hopefully, Pakistan would open up their airspace soon for everyone so that flight operations can be brought back to normal.
What do you think about the schedule changes and cancellations by Air India in the wake of the aeropolitical issues with Pakistan?