Srinagar: Much to the surprise of many stakeholders, the Srinagar-Sharjah flight has taken off quite well, contrary to fears that it may be shut down with Pakistan refusing its airspace. Now Kashmiri exporters want cargo service to start, too, which they say will be the “game changer”.
The flight, which was flagged off in late October by Union Home Minister Amit Shah at Srinagar airport, was in danger of getting stalled after Pakistan refused to allow the aircraft over its airspace. The danger was felt more acutely because of the previous experience of the same flight, which was shut down a decade ago when Pakistan had refused airspace that time, too.
Farooq Kuthoo, head of the Travel Agents Association of Kashmir, told Kashmir Reader, “The flight service is doing good.” Though he did not give the figures, he said the response was encouraging. Earlier, he had said that the flight may be shut again or its cost may skyrocket if it has to take another, longer path to bypass Pakistan’s airspace.
Now that the flights have begun, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce head Sheikh Ashiq says that the government should start cargo flights too. For him, this will open access to new markets, reduce the transit time, and ease passage for Kashmir exports to the Middle East and Europe.
At present, the Kashmir exports reach the Middle East via Delhi and Mumbai, through air and water transport. This adds to their freight costs, and delays the departure of their goods, Ashiq said. The Sharjah direct flight will not only reduce the costs but will get the goods delivered in a single day.
“It will be a game changer,” Ashiq said.
Tour operators who spoke to Kashmir Reader said that the Srinagar-Sharjah direct flight will also 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.
At present, the flight travellers are mostly Kashmirs who work in Dubai, Ashiq said.