Passengers on trunk routes between the Asia-Pacific and Europe have been suffering collateral damage after hostilities broke out between India and Pakistan over their long-running feud about the disputed Kashmir region.
Tens of thousands of passengers are still stranded at airports in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Singapore after Pakistan, which is almost midway between Southeast Asia and Europe, sealed off its skies, snarling air traffic in and out of the region.
Beijing has now offered to open parts of its airspace near Pakistan, over its western Tibet and Xinjiang provinces formerly off limits to civilian planes, to intercontinental flights as airlines scramble to reroute and divert their services to haul frazzled passengers to their destinations.
The new detours were announced by China’s Civil Aviation Administration on Thursday after the Chinese Air Force agreed to open temporary corridors above the Qinghai-Tibet Plateau. The notice also came after Air China and Pakistan International Airlines canceled all direct and connecting services to and from Islamabad, Karachi and Lahore for two consecutive days.
Pakistan’s Civil Aviation Authority said late Thursday that all international and domestic commercial flights in and out of the country remained canceled until further notice. Meanwhile, China’s civil aviation regulator said about 50 foreign flights had already flown the newly-opened alternative paths as of Thursday evening.
After scrapping all 10 flights from Europe to Bangkok as well as those to Pakistan that were due to depart late on Wednesday and early Thursday, Thai Airways said it had resumed normal operations after China granted permission to use its airspace for nearly a dozen flights to Europe.
The crowd of stranded passengers waiting anxiously overnight to board their Europe-bound flights at Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi International Airport had started to dissipate, albeit slowly.
The Beijing-based Global Times cited Chinese civil aviation experts as saying that flights from Europe and the Middle East used to overfly Pakistan and the Pakistan-India border, but carriers would have to reroute over India and Myanmar or via central Asia to enter China’s airspace.
Such diversions do not come cheap as the new routes cost airlines for the extra fuel used. About 800 flights use the India-Pakistan air corridor on a daily basis, according to Reuters.
More flights taking bypasses through China are feared to add more strain to the nation’s already congested space for civil aviation, while the PLA still cordons off large swaths of Chinese airspace and corrals flights to just a number of key corridors.
It was also reported that a Sichuan Airlines flight from Chengdu to Dubai was forced to retrace its path, six hours into the flight, on Wednesday, following the abrupt closure of Pakistani airspace. The Airbus A330-300 jet reportedly circled and buzzed Chengdu, the capital of China’s western Sichuan province, for hours to consume fuel and reduce weight before it could touch down safely.
Tensions between India and Pakistan continue to simmer after the two militaries clashed this week.