Airlines will divert services from going anywhere over Afghan airspace. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: The UAE’s air space should turn busy with more commercial flights using it after the skies over Afghanistan have become no-go zones for airlines.

Air India, British Airways, KLM, and Singapore Airlines are rerouting overland flights from Afghanistan, according to Flightradar24. Several flights are now going through Pakistan and Iran, satellite data shows.

UAE’s airspace will also get busier as airlines – especially those that fly passengers from Asia to Europe and North America – work their way around Afghanistan.

“Iranian and other airspace will be busier than normal, with the diverting aircraft in the airspace,” said Andrew Charlton, an aviation analyst. “That will also add to the workload of air traffic control agencies affected - but I am sure that they can handle the pressure.”

As of October 2020, the number of aircraft flying through UAE's airspace had risen to 1,000 a day.

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Longer journeys

“When airlines have to divert around closed airspace, by definition it means that the aircraft are taking longer routes to get to their destination, which costs more in fuel and of course time,” said Charlton. “That will impact those airlines that are most using the airspace, which at the moment would include the Gulf carriers.

“Traditionally, it would also have affected carriers from Asia to Europe. But that is not such a big deal now and most airlines can afford the diversion in any event.”

Rising risks

Airlines and governments are now paying more attention to the risks of flying over conflict zones after two recent deadly incidents involving surface-to-air missiles. A Malaysia Airlines plane was downed over eastern Ukraine in 2014, killing all 298 people on board. And a Ukraine International Airlines jet was shot down by Iran's military last year, killing all 176 passengers and crew.

Oil factor

“There will be an impact on airline operations to places, including India and Pakistan, due to airspace closures,” said John Strickland of JLS Consulting. “This will add to journey time and hence increased fuel burn on some markets. But it is essential to maintain confidence.”

Higher oil prices – up roughly 55 per cent in the last 12 months – are hitting airline margins and may make it harder for the aviation industry to recover from its current crisis.