The closure of Pakistan's airspace in reaction to the Indian Air Force's strike at Jaish-e-Mohammed's Balakot camp across the Line of Control (LoC) on February 26 has affected as many as 350 flights daily and caused massive losses to airlines. And the Maharajah is reportedly among the worst affected.
The beleaguered national carrier has suffered losses of around Rs 300 crore in the past two months as its long haul flights from New Delhi had to be diverted around the Pakistani airspace and, hence take longer to reach destinations in Europe, the Gulf and the US, IANS reported. Air India operates 66 weekly services to Europe and 33 to the US. Longer flights not only translated to higher fuel burn at a time oil prices were already on the boil, but also meant that the aircraft could not be used to generate revenue elsewhere. Moreover, it pushed up airfares significantly.
According to a Reuters calculation, which mapped all 34 flights between Delhi and Amsterdam in both directions, over February 19-26 and April 3-9 - using data from Flightradar24 - the detour added up to two hours to flight time since distances increased by an average 22% over the previous direct path over Pakistan. The Maharajah's Delhi-Washington and Delhi-Chicago flights similarly had to take a southerly detour, compelled to make a stop at Mumbai or Vienna for refuelling and change of crew.
In the bargain, Air India has incurred daily losses to the tune of Rs 6 crore on additional fuel, cabin staff expenses and reduced flights. "The losses on account of payload restriction and cancellation alone are about Rs 2.75 crore per day. The longer flying time has affected the duty hours of cabin staff and pilots," an Air India official told IANS. "Other airlines have an option to pull out services in such situations but as the national carrier we cannot do so." American carrier United, for instance, temporarily suspended its Delhi-Newark flight and is monitoring the situation.
Air India has, therefore, approached the Civil Aviation Ministry to ensure it is compensated for the loss and the matter is reportedly being taken up with those concerned.
The silver lining is that with Pakistan partially reopening its airspace, things have started to improve. On April 6, Pakistan opened one of the 11 routes for west-bound flights and the buzz is that Air India has rerouted some of its US and Europe-bound flights, saving 15 minutes of flight time.
(With agency inputs)