Srinagar-Sharjah flight in jeopardy with Pak refuses use of its airspace

Srinagar-Sharjah flight in jeopardy with Pak refuses use of its airspace

SRINAGAR: Kashmir-based tour operators fear that the Srinagar-Sharjah direct flight, inaugurated just ten days ago by Union Home Minister Amit Shah in Srinagar, may be shut down after Pakistan refusing to share its air space for the airlines to operate the flight. The operators believe that the flight will open new avenues for development in the region, a move they have been waiting for a long time, and its closure could put a premature end to it.

Tour operators who spoke to Kashmir Reader said that the Srinagar-Sharjah direct flight will bring tourists from the Middle-East to Kashmir, facilitate Kashmiri exports to the region, and ease travel for all Kashmiris who work in the Arab world. Nasir Shah, one of the key tour & travel players in the Valley, told Kashmir Reader that for example, the about 20,000 Keralites who work in Dubai will be able to catch a direct flight to Kashmir, an opportunity they may well avail as about 5,000 Keralite tourists from Dubai have visited Kashmir in the recent past.

He also said that about 50,000 Kashmiris who work in Dubai will have hassle-free travel.

“Before the start of the flight, any visitor from Dubai had to first land either at Delhi or at Mumbai airport. This was not only adding to the cost but was making the travel inconvenient. Srinagar-Sharjah flight was going to change that forever,” he said.

But now that Pakistan has refused its airspace for the flight, tourism players fear that the flight might be closed, once again, like it was closed in 2010 when the flight was started but shut down immediately after Pakistan blocked the airspace.

To bypass the Pakistan airspace will add 40 more minutes of travel, Shah said.

Go First, previously known as GoAir, started direct flights between Srinagar and Sharjah from October 23 and the service was inaugurated by Home Minister Amit Shah during his visit to the Valley last month. It was the first flight service between Kashmir and the UAE after 11 years when Air India Express had started a Srinagar-Dubai flight in February 2009 but it was discontinued after some time due to low demand.

Former J&K chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah has also tweeted on Pakistan’s decision, calling it “very unfortunate.” He wrote on his official Twitter handle: “Pakistan did the same thing with the Air India Express flight from Srinagar to Dubai in 2009-2010. I had hoped that @GoFirstairways being permitted to overfly Pak airspace was indicative of a thaw in relations but alas that wasn’t to be.”

Mehbooba Mufti, former CM and head of the PDP, termed the closure of the airspace as poorly managed diplomacy by the GoI. “They should have got it cleared before the inaugural,” she said.

Farooq Kuthoo, head of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir, told Kashmir Reader that he, too, fears that the flight may be shut again. Definitely, he said, the cost of the flight will skyrocket if it has to take another, longer path, so the government should find a way to get Pakistan to change its stance.

As of now, an average ticket of Rs 10,000 will what it will cost a traveller to reach Sharjah, but the new arrangement may raise the price to Rs 20,000.


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