Hundreds of Flights Divert After Pakistan Shuts Down Airspace

Feb 27, 2019

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The airspace over Pakistan, and all airports in the country, have been closed since Wednesday morning local time because of the escalating armed conflict between Pakistan and India. This closes a major air route between Europe and Asia, causing hundreds of flights to reroute and dozens more to divert to alternative airports.

The sudden rise in tensions between the two nuclear-armed nations was sparked by a suicide bombing by a Pakistan-based militant group that killed 40 Indian security forces in the Indian-administered section of the disputed region of Kashmir. In retaliation, India claims to have bombed a militant training camp in Pakistan in what is the first acknowledged breach of Pakistani airspace by Indian forces since 1971.

Pakistan claims to have shot down two Indian fighter jets that entered Pakistani airspace. India only acknowledges it lost one. Both sides agree that an Indian fighter jet pilot has been taken captive by Pakistani forces.

After the quick escalation in hostilities, both sides now seem invested in keeping this situation from spiraling into an all-out war. To keep civilian aircraft from becoming mistaken casualties, Pakistan authorities closed its entire airspace “until further notice,” and India temporarily closed eight airports near Kashmir. These airports have since reopened and flights have resumed.

Shortly after Pakistani airspace was closed, Afghanistan authorities also closed airspace to overflights, causing additional, if realtively minor, disruption. These closures have forced hundreds of flights to reroute, as mapped by Ops Group:

Image courtesy of Ops Group.

In addition, dozens of flights have had to divert. Among these was United’s flight from Newark (EWR) to Mumbai (BOM) which diverted while over Russian airspace to Frankfurt (FRA):

Image courtesy of FlightRadar24.
Image courtesy of FlightRadar24.

United’s flight from Newark to Delhi (DEL) diverted much earlier in its journey, heading instead to London Heathrow (LHR):

Image courtesy of FlightRadar24.
Image courtesy of FlightRadar24.

Air India’s flight from New York Kennedy (JFK) to Delhi diverted instead to Dubai’s secondary World Central International Airport (DWC):

Image courtesy of FlightRadar24.
Image courtesy of FlightRadar24.

Those are just some of the flights that were diverted due to the closure of Pakistani airspace. Among the dozens of flights that ended up at a different airport, some made it inside Pakistani airspace before being turned around to divert to an alternate airport.

Image courtesy of FlightRadar24.

As the Pakistani airspace closure is indefinite, it’s unclear at this time how long flights will be affected. Air travel to and from Pakistan is likely to face disruptions for at least the next few days. Flights between the US and India will likely face knock-on effects the next few days, and may require a refueling stop to make it the full distance once a normal schedule resumes.

In addition, hundreds of flights that would otherwise overfly Pakistan airspace are likely to face substantial delays as airline fly around the closed airspace. Passengers planning to travel to/from India or between Europe and Southeast Asia should monitor their flight status carefully.

Featured image courtesy of Ops Group.

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