Aircraft queue up on the tarmac before taking off at Mumbai airport. Photo: AFP

The ongoing military tension between India and Pakistan is expected to add misery to airline companies as air space in some parts of India and Pakistan have been closed, forcing them to cancel or divert flights.

Thousands of passengers were stranded around the region, including in Thailand, where reports said thousands of passengers were struck because of the closed airspace.

The aviation industry in India was already facing stress due to high aviation fuel costs and low-profit margins and most had reported either losses or sharp falls in profits in the December quarter.

On Wednesday after fighter jets from Pakistan targeted India territory, local airlines were told to stop operations to several airports, including Srinagar, Jammu, Leh, Pathankot, Amritsar, Shimla, Kangra, Kullu Manali and Pithoragarh. While more than 30 flights were canceled from the closed airports, about 47 were affected by Delhi airport. However, later in the day these airports were reopened.

The decision on the closure of airspace in Pakistan and parts of northern India will push up operational costs. For Air India and Jet Airways, any airspace closure over Pakistan means flights to the US and Europe have to take a longer route. To avoid Pakistan airspace, aircraft will have to travel through Muscat and Iran to reach North America.

The travel time is expected to increase by almost two hours and they will burn more fuel. These airlines generally deploy Boeing 777s and 787s for the Europe and US flights. Those planes burn fuel worth about 700,000 rupees (US$9,833) per hour. So any new route would translate into an additional expense of 1.4 million rupees ($19,666), Business Standard reported. In addition, the airlines would have to deploy more crew due to longer flight hours.

IndiGo and SpiceJet operate flights to Dubai and other Persian Gulf cities and they will now have to fly an additional 30 minutes, while SpiceJet’s flights to Kabul will take an extra four hours.

Tour operators also fear that an escalation of tension would possibly hit the inbound tourist flow. Already, the US and French embassies have issued advisories asking their citizens to avoid Jammu and Kashmir and other border areas.

The Airports Authority of India has formulated contingency procedures to facilitate the transit of overflying flights over the Indian peninsula to minimize discomfort to the traveling public.

Airlines from other regions affected have been making similar plans to avoid the airspace over India and Pakistan.

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