Srinagar: Pakistan is reported to have informed India that it will not allow the use of its airspace for Srinagar-Sharjah flights. The inaugural flight between Kashmir’s capital and the third-most populous city in the United Arab Emirates was flagged off by Union home minister Amit Shah on October 23. He had said air connectivity between Srinagar and the Gulf “will help in boosting tourism and bringing more investment in J&K”.
After Islamabad’s refusal, the flight will be an hour and a half longer as the planes will have to fly to Sharjah via Udaipur and Ahmedabad and overfly Oman, and could also be more expensive, officials said. After the inaugural sortie, there were direct flights between Srinagar and Sharjah on October 24, 26 and 28.
Earlier in 2009, Air India Express had started direct flights between Srinagar and Dubai. Congress leader Sonia Gandhi, who had along with then J&K chief minister Omar Abdullah and other dignitaries received the passengers of the inaugural Air India Express flight from Dubai at Srinagar’s modernised airport on February 14, 2009, said: “Peace is returning to Kashmir and with Srinagar finding a place on the international aviation map the region’s economy is destined to thrive.”
The new aircraft inducted in its fleet by Air India Express had a flower-laden “shikara” (gondola) on Srinagar’s pristine glory, the Dal Lake on one side of the tail and an “image of a large expanse of the Rajasthan Desert” on the other side.
However, the weekly flight was grounded soon after it began operating with fanfare and raising new hopes among Kashmir’s tourism and business stakeholders, as claimed by Mr Abdullah, due to Islamabad’s refusal to allow it to fly over Pakistan.
After the inauguration of the Srinagar-Sharjah flight, Mr Abdullah had tweeted: “Good to see the refusal of space usage is a thing of the past.”
Official sources in New Delhi and Srinagar said the Go First Srinagar-Sharjah flight has been forced to take a long route after Pakistan refused the use of its airspace. “Effective yesterday (Tuesday), Go First has to change the flight path since Pakistan refused right to airspace,” a source said, adding Islamabad raised concerns overuse of its airspace.
The sources said the external affairs, home and civil aviation ministries were informed about this, and they are “looking into it”.
Mr Abdullah had written on Twitter on October 23: “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.” In another tweet, he had said: “Because of Pakistan’s cussed refusal to allow flights originating from Srinagar to use its airspace the SXR-DXB flight had to take a ‘technical halt’ in Delhi or had to fly south & go around Pakistani airspace. This made the flight completely unviable both in terms of cost & time.”
On Wednesday, he again tweeted: “Very unfortunate. 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”.
People’s Democratic Party president and former CM Mehbooba Mufti held the Indian government responsible for the fiasco. She tweeted: “Puzzling that GOI didn’t even bother securing permission from Pakistan to use its airspace for international flights from Srinagar. Only a PR extravaganza without any groundwork.”