Iran bans airspace for PIA as post-Haj flights start

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The Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) will start its post-Haj operation from Thursday (today) while bearing extra fuel costs, as Iran’s Civil Aviation Organisation (CAO-IRI) has closed its airspace for PIA aircraft over a delayed outstanding payment of $0.6 million, Pakistan Today learnt on Wednesday. Sources in the national flag carrier disclosed that transit payments of around $0.6 million were delayed for over six months, which compelled the Iranian authorities to take stern measures against the PIA.
They indicated that the PIA’s post-Haj flights for Lahore and Islamabad would be badly affected because all Punjab-bound flights complete most of their journey over Iran’s airspace. The ban on using Iranian airspace would force the PIA to take a longer route over Oman, increasing both the fuel costs and travelling time. The European Union and some western countries have also banned PIA aircraft in their airspace on safety concerns, while Saudi Arabia imposed penalties for similar reasons, PIA officials said. According to the airline’s post-Haj operation schedule, the first flight will take off from King Abdul Aziz International Airport, Jeddah, for Islamabad at 4:00pm local time (6:00 pm PST) on Thursday. However the airport website indicates that the same flight would leave at 3:40pm local time. It seems that the PIA has created a cushion of 20 minutes to avoid further delays and rescue its reputation. A PIA spokesman said that Haj Operations Director Aijaz Mazhar and a team of senior airline officials were present at the Jeddah airport to facilitate the returning pilgrims.
He said the senior management was in constant contact with Jeddah’s General Authority of Civil Aviation for swift security clearance and immigration of Pakistani pilgrims. He said the airline had advised the returning pilgrims to reach Jeddah airport at least eight hours ahead of the required check-in time to avoid hassle and rush. He said the PIA had acquired dedicated bays at Jeddah airport for its post-Haj flights, while increasing the number of check-in counters and baggage scanners.