The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Time for a touchdown
- Air traffic to Valley jumps as tourists return, businessmen get more options
A shikara on the picturesque Dal Lake

Mumbai, May 30: No one knows when the guns of terror will fall silent in Kashmir but the peace talks are surely bearing fruit.

The Valley, where roads still breathe fear, is wooing back tourists and businessmen who are prepared to take their chance despite the militants and their deadly fusillade.

One sure proof that the traffic to the Valley is picking up is GoAir, the latest low- cost airlines to fly the Indian skies. The airlines has started the first direct flight to Srinagar from Mumbai and the venture seems to have paid off.

“The response has been overwhelming,” says Jeh Wadia, the managing director who sensed the opportunity.

“The passenger load factor on this sector is at its peak and all the flights have been full, packed and booked in advance since the launch,” Wadia says.

For businessmen, it means more choice.

“All the direct flights on the sector remain booked, which forces me to change flights at Delhi. They (GoAir) should increase their flight frequency,” says a businessman from Srinagar who often travels to Mumbai.

“The direct flights are just a month and a half old and it is too early to decide on daily flights. However, we would love to do so as and when the right time comes,” Wadia says.

Kingfisher Airlines has just started a daily flight to the Valley from Mumbai and Delhi.

“While the flight from Mumbai is via Delhi, it is technically a direct flight as passengers do not need to change their flights,” says Manoj Chacko, general manager (sales) of Kingfisher Airlines.

“We recognised the tremendous potential of the sector not only from the tourist perspective. There are a substantial number of passengers who travel on the sector for commercial purposes, which keeps the traffic density high throughout the year,” he adds.

Will other airlines also look at introducing direct flights to the Valley'

“We realise that the sector is extremely attractive and we are definitely evaluating the options. However, we have not taken any final decision yet,” says Wolfgang Prock-Schauer, chief executive officer, Jet Airways.

How about direct flights from other cities'

“We evaluate all the routes to understand the demand for each sector. Though we have not yet finalised anything, we are surely studying other cities from where we can offer direct flights into the Valley,” says Kingfisher’s Chacko.

Lalit Suri, who owns the largest and the most exclusive property in Srinagar, Intercontinental The Grand Palace, has major plans for the Valley.

“There are now 11 flights into the Valley and the hotels are doing extremely well. We plan to add more rooms to the current 125 in the next year,” says Suri.

“We are also looking at building a property in Gulmarg and have requested the government to either auction or allot some land.”

Suri also talks about a multiplex and a mall in Srinagar. “Hope the government will allow us to do so,” he says.

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