Pakistan closes airspace for commercial flights

A Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) Boeing 777-200LR. Photo: © BriYYZ

Flight operations across all airports in Pakistan, as well as traffic overflying and therefore using the country’s airspace, has been suspended.

The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) of Pakistan has issued a notice, stating that the national airspace is closed for all commercial flights. According to this NOTAM (Notice to Airmen), it will remain closed until 23:59 UTC on February 28th.

Pakistan says the move to shut its airspace is a security measure and comes shortly after the country claimed to have shot down an Indian fighter jet in the ongoing political and military tensions between the two nations over the Kashmir region.

This unplanned closure causes major disruption to worldwide air traffic, as not only flights to and from Pakistan are affected by cancellations and delays, but also overflying traffic. Flights already in the air, heading towards the country, were forced to divert or take longer alternate routes. According to Flightradar24, the duration of a SpiceJet flight from Kabul, Afghanistan to Delhi, increased from 1:40 to 5:40 hours.

Most flights between Europe/Middle East and South/Southeast Asia take routes via Pakistani airspace. These flights are now forced to take longer routes, in order to avoid the country. Some aircraft therefore have to make unplanned stops for refueling.

As a result, Air Canada has cancelled its flights to India for at least one day, while Thai Airways cancelled all of its flights to Europe on February 27th and early 28th. The General Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) of the United Arabian Emirates (UAE) says it has suspended UAE carriers from flying to Pakistan as it “continues to monitor the situation in Pakistan and take appropriate decisions to ensure the safety of passengers and national carriers.