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Kargil flights queue up for take-off

The Air Mantra trial flight to Kargil on Monday. (Fotocorp)

Srinagar, Jan. 7: India’s civil aviation map will have a notable addition this week — Kargil.

The Union civil aviation ministry has roped in a private airline, Air Mantra, to start regular services to and from the country’s northernmost town.

Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah today flew in a Mantra plane from Jammu to oversee the “final preparedness for a regular and commercial air-service” to Kargil, which remains cut off by road five months in a year because of snow.

“I am the most fortunate that the historic air service to Kargil is taking place in my tenure… which so many chief ministers cherished and worked for,” Omar told a crowd after arriving in the town.

State transport minister and local MLA Qamar Ali Akhoon said the first regular flight from Jammu would “land in Kargil on January 10, 11 or 12”.

The airline will charge around Rs 10,000 one way but the state government would request the Centre to subsidise the fares, like in the Northeast.

State officials said they expected the flights to give a fillip to tourism given Kargil’s natural beauty.

Thousands braved the sub-zero cold to watch the plane carrying Omar, Akhoon and others land today. “The temperature dipped to minus 17 degrees but you still had so many turning up. This goes to show how people have been craving this service for decades,” Akhoon said.

The state government will press for daily services. “Initially, the flights will operate between Jammu and Kargil but we want flights between Srinagar and Kargil, too,” Akhoon said.

The town got a new airfield in 2003 after an old Indian Air Force airfield suffered extensive damage during the 1999 Kargil conflict.

The airport, located at a height of 9,600ft and only 9km from the LoC, is run by the military. The force has, however, been running flights since 2003 to evacuate civilians during winter. The runway is 6,000ft long but Akhoon said there is a proposal to double its length.