Srinagar: The Srinagar-Sharjah direct flight, which completes one month of operations on Tuesday, has been a runaway success as the flight is presently witnessing 90 per cent passenger occupancy.
The flight was flagged-off by Union Home Minister Amit Shah on October 23 and despite witnessing initial hiccups, the flight operating from a longer route now, has gained popularity among the Kashmiri travelers.
An official told Greater Kashmir that as many as 5000 passengers have travelled to and fro on the Srinagar-Sharjah flight during the last one month.
“We have been operating 4 flights per week and almost 170 passenger occupancy in each flight. This direct flight at present is witnessing almost 90 per cent passenger occupancy and if all goes well we expect the passenger footfalls to increase in days to come,” said the official.
Despite all odds, the flight has gained popularity among travelers especially trade fraternity. The official said the flight is now taking an additional 40 minutes to reach Sharjah, after Pakistan refused to allow the flights to use its air space. However, the official said despite a longer route, people prefer to travel on this flight.
Musadiq Shah, vice-president of Kashmir Pashmina Organisation said people in general and trade community in particular have been benefited by the direct flight. Shah said there should be more direct international flights connecting Srinagar to other overseas destinations.
“This has not just provided a boost to the travel community but those travelling to visit friends and relatives also find it quite convenient to board this flight” said Shah.
Shah who also heads the Kashmir Art Retailers in Dubai said the direct flight has also provided an impetus to tourist influx from the UAE to Kashmir.
“We are getting to hear that there are plans to start direct cargo goods service between Srinagar and Sharjah. That will be a huge boost to trade in Kashmir” Shah said.
Prior to the Srinagar-Sharjah flight, the first international flight from the Srinagar Airport to Dubai was started on February 14, 2009 by Air India Express, but the once-a-week service was discontinued due to a low demand.
It may be mentioned that the central government on October 6 declared the Srinagar International Airport as 'major airport'. “In exercise of the powers conferred by Sub-Section (i) of Section 2 of the Airports Economic Regulatory Authority of India Act, 2008 (No.27 of 2008), the Central Government hereby declares the airport at Srinagar as Major Airport," said the gazettes notification issued by the Ministry of Civil Aviation. This move had come just weeks after Union Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated the Srinagar-Sharjah international flight.
Pertinently, Srinagar airport witnesses operations of almost 40 to 45 commercial flight arrivals every day. As per AAI data, the annual footfalls of passengers at Srinagar is expected to increase from the current 3 million passengers to 5.2 million passengers per annum
Considerably affordable air fares coupled with a drop in number of Covid cases has doubled the passenger footfalls and air traffic at the Srinagar International Airport this year, officials said. As per the official data, the Srinagar Airport handled 16.25 lakh passengers between April and October this year, which is a record high for this period witnessed at the aerodrome. During the same period last year, the Airport had witnessed less than 7 lakh passenger footfalls.
Similarly, there has been a sharp increase in the air traffic at the Airport during the last seven months.
As many as 13,351 flights operated to and from the Airport during the last seven months of this year. Comparatively, only 5130 flights had operated at the Airport during the same period last year.
Interestingly, October- a month which usually does not witness much of air traffic due to lesser tourist influx and even lesser frequency of travel of locals- has this year witnessed a whopping 331914 passenger footfalls with as many as 2460 flights.
Speaking with Greater Kashmir, an official said the steps taken by the J&K government to sharply bring down Value Added Taxes and sales tax on the Aviation Turbine Fuel (ATF) for airlines operating in J&K region to 1 per cent.
These decisions are part of slew of measures taken by the government recently to promote air traffic to Jammu and Kashmir. With the reduced airfare on account of reduction in Sales Tax and VAT on ATF, the air-traffic has increased which will boost both tourism and economic activities in the region.
It may be mentioned that Civil Aviation Minister Jyotiraditya M Scindia had during his Kashmir visit announced that two new airport terminals will be established in Jammu and Srinagar. With an impetus expected from tourism influx this winter, the air traffic to Srinagar International Airport is expected to be one of the highest witnessed in the last several years.