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Key Asia-Europe air route closed as India-Pakistan tensions rise
[NEW DEHLI] Global airlines were forced to divert or cancel several flights after Pakistan shut down its airspace following a military clash with India, blocking one of the key air routes between Asia Pacific and Europe.
A Singapore Airlines flight to London was diverted to Dubai Wednesday to refuel before heading to its final destination, the carrier said in an email. Its plane to Frankfurt also stopped in Mumbai to pick up fuel, while the return service was canceled. Qantas Airways had to change the flight path for its London-Singapore service, which is scheduled to arrive at the Asian city-state later Thursday, adding an extra 20 minutes to the journey.
Thai Airway scrapped all 10 flights from Europe to Bangkok as well as those to Pakistan that were due to depart late Wednesday and early Thursday, it said on its website.
The South Asian nations are engaged in the most serious military confrontation in decades, after India said Tuesday it killed hundreds of militants in a camp inside Pakistan. Pakistan retaliated by shooting down an Indian MiG-21 aircraft and capturing a pilot, while India said it downed a Pakistani jet. Pakistan closed its airspace, while airports in northern India were shut for hours before restrictions were lifted.
About 220 daily services between Europe and Southeast Asia fly through Pakistan airspace, the primary route connecting the two regions, according to the International Air Transport Association.
A United Continental Holdings flight from Newark Liberty International Airport to Delhi was re-routed to London and later cancelled, while a Newark-Mumbai flight was diverted to Frankfurt. An Air Canada flight from Toronto to Delhi turned back Tuesday night over Ireland and was scrubbed when it arrived back in Canada. A Vancouver-Delhi flight also was scrapped.
Singapore Airlines said its Europe-bound flights on Thursday will take off as planned, but will be re-routed to avoid the affected airspace, without any refueling stops.
United said it would continue to operate its Newark-Mumbai and Newark-Delhi flights Wednesday night, flying around Pakistani airspace, and warned customers they would experience "extended flight times." The carrier made the decision "after working with relevant government authorities and conducting a thorough safety and security review," according to an emailed statement.
Air Canada was operating a Toronto-Mumbai flight later Wednesday using a different route, said Peter Fitzpatrick, a spokesman for the carrier. The airline cancelled a service to Delhi from Toronto on Wednesday night, and from Vancouver on Thursday.
Earlier, key transcontinental routes connecting Europe and Asia were also affected.
Sri Lankan Airlines canceled flights to the Pakistani cities of Karachi and Lahore on Thursday following the airspace closing. The U.A.E. Aviation Authority suspended flights to Pakistan, Al Arabiya reported.
The impact on some Indian airports weighed on domestic operations as well. IndiGo, India's largest carrier, Singapore Airlines-affiliate Vistara, Jet Airways India and Go Air said flights were suspended at several airports.