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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 26 March 2019

Pakistan opens airspace for flights to UAE and Saudi Arabia

Pakistan closed its airspace to flights on Wednesday after the country’s military shot down two Indian military aircraft, reportedly on its side of the disputed Kashmir territory

Screengrab from flightradar24 on Thursday shows planes flying routes to avoid Pakistan's airspace. 
Screengrab from flightradar24 on Thursday shows planes flying routes to avoid Pakistan's airspace. 

Pakistan has opened its airspace temporarily for flights to and from Saudi Arabia and the UAE.

The country closed its airspace on Wednesday after the its military shot down two Indian military aircraft, reportedly on its side of the disputed Kashmir territory.

In a tweet, Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said the airspace would be closed until further notice.

But on Thursday, Pakistan International Airlines, which announced the initial closure of the airspace, confirmed it would be temporarily opened to Saudi Arabia and UAE on "priority basis".

In a tweet, PIA said: "PIA has decided to restore some flights from Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the basis of temporarily opening Pakistan airline limits.”

The tweet listed three flights from Jeddah, Medinah and Dubai that would be travelling to Karachi on Thursday.

Flight tracking site Flightradar24 confirmed an Air Arabia plane bound for Ras Al Khaimah was the first to leave Pakistan during the temporary lift of its air limits.

Saj Ahmad, chief analyst of StrategicAero Research, said the biggest impact has been to flights coming from the south east of Asia, travelling to Europe. Thai Airways, for example, dropped a number of flights, he said.

"Not many UAE flights transit directly through the entire length of Pakistan enroute to places like China and East Asia and any reroutings can be mitigated via more northern flight paths around the country. Times will increase but safety is far more paramount," said Mr Ahmad.

Etihad cancelled a string of flights on Wednesday and Thursday, including both the outbound and return legs of flights from Abu Dhabi to Lahore, Islamabad and Karachi.

Guests on the EY290 Abu Dhabi to Kathmandu flight, which was forced to return due to the closure of the airspace on Wednesday, boarded an upgraded service to Kathmandu at 10am on Thursday, the airline said.

Etihad said its guest control team was actively working to support affected passengers.

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Kashmir latest: India and Pakistan exchange border fire

Other UAE airlines followed suit, suspending a string of flights to Pakistan, including Emirates, Air Arabia and FlyDubai, which cancelled 22 flights to various destinations in the country on Thursday.

The airlines have yet to confirm whether they will now resume operations to Pakistan.

However, Mr Ahmad said it is likely the shutdown will not last too much longer.

"Pakistan will want to easy restrictions as it is losing out on crucial revenue from airplanes in its airspace. Long term, air space closure is the last thing they'd want," he said.

"The driver of course is whether there is political willpower between India and Pakistan to come to some sort of cessation of hostilities to allow normality to prevail."

Updated: February 28, 2019 05:36 PM

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