Pakistan has closed its airspace to all commercial air traffic in what appears to be a major escalation in tensions with neighbouring India. The airspace closure, which encompasses the entire country, was brought about after Pakistan apparently shot down two Indian fighter jets after they crossed over the so-called ‘Line of Control’ in the disputed region of Kashmir.
Pakistan now says they have captured two Indian air force pilots although a senior general in Pakistan’s armed forces was quoting as saying that his country did not want to escalate the situation further or go to war with India. For its part, India apparently sent the fighter jets into Kashmir to take out what it believed to be a terroist camp in the region. India also says it does not want any further escalation.
Tensions between the two nuclear powers have been strained for decades but this is probably the most public spat that has occurred between the two foes in years. And with tensions now on tenterhooks and a massive airspace closure, it’s also having far-reaching effects.
Major airports in Pakistan, as well as India, have been forced to close and flights bound for destinations in both countries have either had to divert or return to their point of origin. Other airlines that would normally fly through Indian or Pakistani airspace, especially between Europe and the Middle East to Asia, are rerouting around the two countries as the situation plays out.
Indian domestic airline Vistara said in a Tweet that flights to and from Amritsar, Srinagar, and Jammu were “on hold” but that airspace restrictions were slowly being lifted and that it hoped to operate a more normal service by Thursday morning.
A United Airlines flight to Mumbai was forced to divert to Frankfurt, while a Delhi bound United Airlines flight instead ended up at London’s Heathrow airport. In a memo to staff, Dubai-based Emirates also said flights have been affected and there would be cancellations to services set to depart for India, Pakistan and Afghanistan.
It remains to be seen how long the diversions, re-routings and cancellations will go on for but both India and Pakistan seem to be trying to deescalate this as quickly as possible. Pakistan will likely lift the airspace closure within hours and it’s unlikely any airline is going to stomach the extra expense of avoiding Pakistani airspace when that happens.