Pakistan’s decision to deny GoFirst permission perhaps has to do with the fact that the flight originates in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir industry observers said.

Pakistan’s decision to first allow and then deny GoFirst permission to use its airspace for flying between Srinagar and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates is being viewed as an isolated incident by Indian pilots and the aviation community at large.

According to industry observers, Pakistan’s decision to deny GoFirst permission perhaps has to do with the fact that the flight originates in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir. GoFirst is the only Indian carrier operating on this route.

Home minister Amit Shah flagged off the inaugural GoFirst flight from Srinagar to Sharjah on October 23. Media reports say that GoFirst was allowed to fly through Pakistan airspace for the first couple of days, but the permission was abruptly withdrawn.

“Perhaps it was not such a smart move to initiate the route (Srinagar-Sharjah) given the sensitivities (between India and Pakistan),” said an aviation industry watcher with over four decades of hands-on airline route planning experience.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah commented on Twitter on November 3: “Very unfortunate, Pakistan did the same thing with the Air India flight from Srinagar to Dubai in 2009-2010. I had hoped that @GoFirstairways being permitted to overfly Pak airspace was indicative of a thaw in relations but alas that wasn’t to be.”

Other Airlines Free To Overfly Pakistani Airspace

Even as Pakistan withdrew permission to GoFirst, other airlines both from India and the Gulf are overflying Pakistani airspace. People in Air India familiar with the development said the airline was using Pakistani airspace.

A pilot from a private airline added that the carrier was “flying to the Gulf and using Pakistan airspace extensively.” The pilot declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

People in Gulf carriers operating between India and West Asia using Pakistan airspace also indicated that the airlines were not facing any problems using Pakistani airspace on their flights from various Indian cities. No Gulf carrier operates between Jammu and Kashmir and the Gulf.

Every country marks out several entry and exit points for various airlines to use. When these entry and exit points are shut, airlines need to consider alternative routes for flying on the same sector. This either involves flying longer or stopping at an intermediate point before reaching the final destinations.

Globally commercial airlines typically fly from east to west. All airlines also try and fly a straight route so that they can save fuel. This is possible when the airspace over a country is open and, more importantly, safe to fly over.

Longer Flight Time, Higher Cost

Pakistan’s decision to deny permission to GoFirst to use Pakistani airspace means that the private airline has to fly from Srinagar towards Gujarat and then cross into the Gulf region, adding about 40 minutes to the overall flying time.

The hourly cost of operating a narrow-body aircraft (which is the variety of aircraft that GoFirst was using on the Srinagar-Sharjah route) is estimated at about $5,000.

To be sure, this is not the first instance of air borders between India and Pakistan being closed to each other’s flights.

During Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s tenure, both countries closed their airspace to one another. In 2019, following Indian air raids on a terrorist camp in Pakistan’s Balakot, both countries again closed their airspace to the other’s airlines.

Syed Akbaruddin, former permanent representative of India to the United Nations and former spokesperson of the ministry of external affairs, said Pakistan’s denial of overflight for an Indian commercial flight from Srinagar to Sharjah was a manifest violation of settled international civil aviation norms.

“There are rulings of the International Civil Aviation Organisation and the International Court of Justice on such matters. Pakistan’s pursuit of this option, which goes against established global practices, means it is up to mischief-making,” the former Indian diplomat said.