Air India is incurring a loss of around Rs three crore a day on its Europe and US flights due to the closure of Pakistan airspace, a senior airline official said on Thursday. Last Wednesday, Pakistan closed its airspace to all flights over its territory, forcing airlines from India and other countries to take a detour. This has led to an increase in flight duration and has also put a strain on air traffic controllers in Mumbai, who are working extra shifts to handle the increase in traffic.
On Friday, Pakistan's civil aviation authority extended the closure by another day till Friday afternoon. Flights within and to Pakistan from overseas have been operating for the past few days.
Air India operates Boeing 777 aircraft on non-stop flights to New York, Newark, Chicago, Washington and San Francisco on 14-16 hour hauls. It has 36 weekly departures from Delhi and Mumbai to the US that would transit Pakistani airspace. The closure has resulted in a change of routes -- flights from Delhi now head South and enter Omani and Iranian airspace. This has led to an increase in flight duration by around two hours. The airline is also forced to make a halt in Sharjah for refuelling in both directions.
"There is an increase of around Rs 20 lakh in operating costs. We are incurring a loss of around Rs three crore daily because of Pakistan air space closure. The rise in costs is largely due to increase in fuel burn, ground handling charges at Sharjah and maintenance expenses. We have not cancelled a single flight and will continue to operate scheduled flights," said a senior Air India executive.
Air India has begun operating US flights one stop via Vienna instead of Sharjah, as the Pakistan air space remains closed. This would enable it to optimise crew utilisation and provide in-flight staff adequate rest as well. Its non-stop flights and also the one via Sharjah had a complement of four pilots and 15 crew members. Pilots and cabin crew duty time are governed by the Directorate General of Civil Aviation regulations and the airline has secured waiver from the regulator for increase in duty hours due to the detour around Pakistan. The airline is now flying one stop via Europe and these flights would be manned by two pilots in each sector allowing the airline to better deploy its crew.