New Delhi: A SpiceJet Delhi-Kabul flight was intercepted last month by fighter jets of the Pakistan Air Force (PAF) after confusion arose due to the call-sign provided to the Boeing 737 aircraft which was on its way to the Afghan capital and was in the Pakistani airspace when the incident occurred.
Earlier this year, in February, Islamabad had shut its airspace for commercial Indian flights in the wake of the Indian Air Force’s (IAF) strikes at the Jaish-e-Muhammad terror camp in Pakistan’s Balakot in retaliation to the Pulwama suicide attack earlier that month. The ban, however, was revoked in July.
According to reports, the SpiceJet incident took place on September 23. The flight was on its way to Kabul and was in the Pakistani airspace when it was intercepted by two F-16s of the PAF. The fighter pilots communicated with the pilots of the commercial airliner, after which the confusion was cleared and the two F-16s escorted the flight out of Pakistani airspace till it entered Afghanistan.
During the episode, the 120 passengers on board the flight, which was numbered SG-21, could see pilots of the two fighter jets.
Reportedly, confusion arose as the Pakistan Air Traffic Control (ATC), misread the call-sign ‘SG’ of the SpiceJet flight as ‘IA’ and misinterpreted it as an aircraft of the Indian Army or the Indian Air Force after which the F-16s were scrambled to intercept the commercial airliner.
In August, it was reported that Pakistan was going to close its airspace to Indian flights as a retaliatory measure to India’s abrogation of special status to Jammu and Kashmir. However, Pakistan Foreign Minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi later clarified that Prime Minister Imran Khan would take the final call on this.
More recently, Islamabad refused to let President Ram Nath Kovind and Prime Minister Narendra Modi to use its airspace.