NEW DELHI: The IndiGo flight operations centre at IGI Airport received a call on Monday-Tuesday midnight, just after the airline’s Dubai-Delhi flight landed here via Pakistan airspace. This was the first flight by an Indian airline after the Telem entry point into India from Pakistan side, near Ahmedabad, was opened on Sunday evening.
The caller was director of Pakistan civil aviation authority (CAA). “Janaab, aap abhi tak jag rahein hain (Sir, you are still awake!), the IndiGo duty officer who received the CAA director’s call told him. ‘I was monitoring the flight. It has landed safely. Aapko zubaan di thi (We had given you a word). Eid Mubarak’, the Pakistan CAA director said to our person,” said a senior IndiGo official.
All the 11 entry points through which aircraft overfly Pakistan airspace into Indian side and vice versa were closed on February 27 – a day after India carried out airstrikes in Balakot — after which flights between parts of south Asia, including Delhi, and the west are taking a longer route. The first land point was opened on Sunday at Telem, from where aircraft fly in from Pakistan to India. The first aircraft to use this route was Etihad’s Abu Dhabi-Delhi on Sunday at 5.34 pm (India time), four minutes after it was opened.
But the test case was going to be an Indian aircraft overflying Pakistan airspace after Telem was reopened on Sunday. “Pakistan suggested it would be better if we first operate one flight as a test case via Telem before routing more flights via that sector. Accordingly, the Dubai-Delhi flight (6E-24) of Monday was planned to take this route,” said an IndiGo official.
Given the level of tension and mutual mistrust between India and Pakistan in recent times, IndiGo did not take a chance and fuelled the aircraft to take the longer route just in case the flight was not allowed to pass through Telem.
Accordingly, it uploaded 14,600 kg for this Dubai-Delhi flight with 180 passengers instead of 1,100 kg-1,200 kg less fuel that the Telem route required. The airline also carried out proper safety risk assessment.
The Airbus A320 took off from Dubai at 8.42pm (all timings IST). Ten minutes before entering Pakistan airspace, the crew of flight 6E 24 contacted the Karachi flight control. “Karachi, this is I Fly (IndiGo’s technical call sign for operations) 24 at flight level so and so. They responded, saying ‘acknowledged’. This meant we were cleared to enter Pakistan airspace,” said the official.
The aircraft entered Pakistan airspace at 9.30pm, exited it at 10.40pm and landed in Delhi at 12.10am. The conversation between this flight crew and Pakistan ATC was purely operational in the 69 minutes they spent there (Pakistan airspace). When it landed, the Pakistan CAA director called the IndiGo operations centre.
“We have routed nine flights into Delhi from the west via Telem on Tuesday. On each flight we will save 22 minutes of flying time and 1,100 kg-1,200 kg of fuel,” said a senior IndiGo pilot.
On Saturday, the Indian Air Force had removed all temporary airspace restrictions imposed on Indian airspace after February 27. This was one of the first decisions after the Modi government was sworn in for a second term.
A senior Indian aviation official said the remaining points were expected to open in phases after Eid. The real benefit for flights between west and Delhi will come when the entry points near Amritsar-Lahore side open. Airlines will start using the shortest possible route using the points as and when they open like Telem.
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