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IA awaits Pak flight orders

New Delhi, May 7: The civil aviation ministry has ordered Indian Airlines to be ready at short notice to resume operations to Pakistan.

“We are merely awaiting instructions from the foreign ministry, we can restart operations any day,” civil aviation minister Shahnawaz Hussain said.

Pakistan’s national airline today said resumption of flights to India would take at least 10 days once the estranged South Asian neighbours formally announce restoration of air links.

“We will be able to resume flight operations within 10 days or so once the two governments formally announce this decision,” Khursheed Anwar, the acting managing-director of Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), told Reuters.

“We have the operational capability and have already made the flight schedule,” he added.

India had stopped all flights to Pakistan as well as overflights in a tit-for-tat decision from January 1 last year.

The move meant all Air-India flights to Europe took about 70 minutes more as they flew via the Persian Gulf and the United Arab Emirates, costing the national airline about Rs 80 lakh extra every week. Flights to certain West Asian destinations like Kuwait and Damman also took about half an hour more because of the new “southern” route, which the airline was forced to take.

Before the decision to stop flights hit aviation ties, Indian Airlines operated a flight connecting Mumbai with Karachi. It also operated a Delhi-Lahore flight in the past. An airline official spokesperson said: “We never shut down our Karachi office and our man in Lahore is still there.”

More than flights to Pakistan, India’s two national carriers are looking forward to overflight facilities over Pakistani airspace as this means better bottomlines, saving them over Rs 40 crore a year. “All those problems will end with normalisation of air relations,” Hussain said.

“I am not an expert on airlines...obviously the two airline officials and both sides have to get together to work out the modalities,” Pakistan’s foreign minister Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri said when asked about overflights.

One of the first beneficiaries of better India-Pakistan air links will be Afghanistan.

India plans to take advantage of the reopening of Pakistani airspace by starting Delhi-Kabul flights. Hussain said these will be operated by Indian Airlines.

Earlier, desperate over the deadlock with Pakistan and the loss of the easier air route, India had even approached China for a safe passage for its jet.

Hussain and defence minister George Fernandes had considered a route through Sinkiang or Chinese Turkistan as it used to be called.

Though this has been a restive border province for China and as a region it has still not fully opened up to foreigners, Indian officials say they had managed to gain preliminary approvals. The only problem with the route, they say was that there were very few airports en-route for emergency landings.

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