Srinagar: After initially allowing the recently started Srinagar-Sharjah flight to operate over its air space, the decision by Pakistan to refuse air space for the direct flight connecting Srinagar and Emirates has lead to a detour of this direct service, which may also lead to costlier air tickets in days to come.
While travelers, trade community and political leaders in Kashmir are disappointed at what they said was the “first hurdle” for this air service, many are hopeful that Government of India would be able to convince its Pakistan counterpart to allow the direct flight to operate over its air space.
The Srinagar-Sharjah flight which commenced operations from October 23 this year , was flagged off by Union Home Minister Amit Shah.
However, the flight faced a hiccup on Tuesday after Pakistan refused airspace to the airliner, forcing it to take a longer route.
Aviation experts said the decision of not allowing air space will mean that the flight from Srinagar to Sharjah will be more than an hour longer as planes will now have to fly via Udaipur, Ahmedabad and Oman. The flight will also be more expensive, they said.
Calling the move "very unfortunate", former chief minister and National Conference vice president Omar Abdullah tweeted, "Pakistan did the same thing with the Air India Express flight from Srinagar to Dubai in 2009-2010. I had hoped that Go First being permitted to overfly Pak airspace was indicative of a thaw in relations, but alas, that wasn't to be."
The former CM had taken to Twitter soon after launch of the Srinagar-Sharjah flight last month. Omar had Tweeted saying: “Regarding the Srinagar-Sharjah flight that has been announced today - has Pakistan had a change of heart & allowed flights originating from Srinagar to use its airspace? If not then this flight will die the way the Srinagar-Dubai flight died during UPA2”.
It may be mentioned that 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.
As soon the news regarding the change of route for the Srinagar-Sharjah flight became public, people began responding on the cyber space. “If they cannot allow flights from kashmir to fly over their territory then how can we allow Chinese to make roads on their territory,” asked a netizen, while expressing resentment over the Pakistan move. Another traveler said the “direct flight with less than four hours of travel time between Srinagar and Sharjah had provided a great respite to passengers, especially children, women and the elderly who would now have to spend the extra hour in the aircraft”.
The trade community in Kashmir is disappointed by the longer route for the Srinagar-Sharjah flight but hopeful that the direct international flight “is a long term initiative and not just a cosmetic measure”. President, Kashmir Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Sheikh Ashiq told Greater Kashmir that the direct flight from Srinagar to Sharjah was a long pending demand of the Kashmir Inc adding that the two neighboring countries must sort out the issue on a diplomatic level so that travelers from Kashmir to UAE don’t suffer.
The direct flight with minimum travel time had started benefiting Kashmiri travelers especially students and business community to a great extent. We are hopeful that the two countries can sort out the regulatory issues and the flight operates as it was initially” said Ashiq.
Musadiq Shah, vice-president of Kashmir Pashmina Organisation people in general and trade community in particular have been benefitted by the direct flight adding that apart from providing “the best possible route to this flight” there should be direct international flights connecting Srinagar to other overseas destinations.
“This will not just provide a boost to the travel community but those travelling to visit friends and relatives will also find it quite convenient to board this flight” said Shah.
Shah who also heads the Kashmir Art Retailers in Dubai said the new flight with less travel time, will also provide an impetus to tourist influx from the UAE to Kashmir.
Meanwhile, former J&K Chief Minister and PDP President, Mehbooba Mufti Wednesday accused the Government of India for lack of groundwork in securing permission from Pakistan to use its airspace for the direct Srinagar-Sharjah flight started recently amid much fanfare. "Puzzling that GOI didn’t even bother securing permission from Pakistan to use its airspace for international flights from Srinagar. Only PR extravaganza without any groundwork, " Mehbooba wrote in a Tweet.