Srinagar-Sharjah flight: Did Pakistan violate first freedom of air by denying permission to use airspace? Explained

Pakistani authorities have not given any official explanation for the refusal yet.

Srinagar-Sharjah flight: On November 2, the recently launched flight from Srinagar to Sharjah had to fly an additional 40 minutes over its scheduled route of 3 hours and 45 minutes for the first time. The change of route was due to Pakistan denying the permission to use its airspace for this flight, which means that the flight had to take a longer route to avoid the neighbouring country’s airspace. A report in IE has cited experts as saying that this refusal could mean the violation of the first freedom of air by Pakistan. Here’s everything you need to know about this issue.

The direct flight from Srinagar to Sharjah had been launched by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on October 23 while he was on a visit to the Union Territory of Jammu and Kashmir. The flight is being operated by budget airline GoFirst (which formerly used to be GoAir). Since then, the flight had been taking a 3-hour-45-minute route via the airspace of Pakistan, before going southwest to reach UAE’s Sharjah. However, all of that stopped on November 2, when the country refused to allow the flight to enter Pakistan’s territory. This led to the flight having to fly south over the states of Rajasthan and Gujarat before flying out over the Arabian Sea and reaching the UAE via Omani airspace.

But the question is why Pakistan denied the flight permission to use its airspace. Pakistani authorities have not given any official explanation for the refusal yet. However, in 2009, it had similarly prohibited an Air India Express flight heading from Srinagar to Dubai from using its airspace. The Government of India has taken up the issue of the refusal regarding the use of airspace for the flight with Pakistani authorities, especially because other flights that take off from airports like Delhi or Lucknow to head to west Asia are allowed to use the Pakistani airspace. This has led to concerns about Pakistan violating the first freedom of air, the report stated.

After the 1944 Chicago Convention, the signatories to the convention came up with rules that would become fundamental building blocks for commercial aviation undertaken internationally. The convention had initially decided on six ‘freedoms of air’, and these freedoms or rights continue to operate within the ambit of multilateral as well as bilateral agreements that allow them. The freedoms of air allow airlines of a particular country to use and/or land in the airspace of another country. As per the first freedom of air, an airline of one country (India’s GoFirst in this case) has the right to fly over a second country (Pakistan here) and land in a third country (the UAE).

While the other freedoms of air do not apply to this incident that has taken place with Pakistan, as per the second freedom of air, an airline can refuel or carry out maintenance in a foreign country without having to embark or disembark passengers or cargo from there. This is helpful for en-route refueling or maintenance while heading to a far-away country.

Meanwhile, the third and the fourth freedoms of air allow airlines to fly from their home country to a foreign one, and vice versa, respectively.

The rest of the freedoms of air, including some that were added later, talk about an airline operating between two countries with none of them being its country of origin, and it operating within a foreign country with and without stopping in the home country.

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