Islamabad: Pakistan has told India that it will not open its airspace for commercial flights until New Delhi removes its fighter jets from forward IAF airbases, Pakistan's Aviation Secretary Shahrukh Nusrat has informed a parliamentary committee.
Pakistan fully closed its airspace on February 26 after the Indian Air Force (IAF) fighter jets struck a Jaish-e-Mohammed (JeM) terrorist training camp in Balakot following the Pulwama terror attack in Kashmir.
Aviation Secretary Nusrat, who is also the Director General of the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), on Thursday informed the Senate Standing Committee on Aviation that his department has intimated Indian officials that Pakistani airspace would remain unavailable for use by India until the country withdraws its fighter jets from forward positions, Dawn News reported. "The Indian government approached asking us to open the airspace. We conveyed our concerns that first India must withdraw its fighter planes placed forward," Nusrat told the committee. This is probably the first time a senior Pakistani official has publicly stated Islamabad's precondition for reopening its airspace after the Balakot air strikes.
He further apprised the committee that Indian officials have contacted Pakistan requesting it to lift the airspace restrictions. "However, Indian officials have been told that Indian airbases are still laden with fighter jets and Pakistan will not allow resumption of flight operations from India until their removal," said Nusrat. Last month, the CAA had extended the airspace ban till July 12. It had earlier extended the airspace restriction until June 30. After the restrictions, all the passenger flights are being diverted to alternative routes by India, The Express Tribune reported.
The CAA official also contested India's claim that Delhi had opened its airspace for Pakistan, the report said. "Pakistani flights from Thailand have not been restored since the closure of the Indian airspace. Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) flights for Malaysia also remain suspended," the CAA DG informed the committee.
Last month, Pakistan gave special permission to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's VVIP flight to use its airspace for his official trip to attend the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation Summit in Bishkek, the capital of Kyrgyzstan.
However Prime Minister Modi's VVIP aircraft avoided flying over Pakistan. Earlier, Pakistan had allowed India's former External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj to fly directly though Pakistani airspace to participate in the meeting of SCO foreign ministers in Bishkek on May 21. India aviation industry has suffered huge losses due to the airspace ban by Pakistan.
On Thursday, Civil Aviation Minister Hardeep Singh Puri told Parliament that due to the closure of Pakistan airspace, Air India had to spend an extra Rs 430 crore on longer routes.