India seeks Pakistani airspace for Srinagar-Sharjah flight
India has requested Pakistan through diplomatic channels to allow Go First's Srinagar-Sharjah flight use its airspace keeping in mind the larger interest of common people who have booked the tickets on this service, government officials said on Thursday. The development came after Pakistan on Tuesday had not allowed the Srinagar-Sharjah flight to use its airspace, forcing it to take a longer route and fly over Gujarat to reach its destination in the UAE.
Go First, previously known as GoAir, had started direct flights between Srinagar and Sharjah from October 23 and the service was inaugurated by Union Home Minister Amit Shah during his visit to the Valley last month. According to the officials, till October 31, the Srinagar-Sharjah-Srinagar service was going through Pakistan airspace.
"However, Pakistan on Tuesday did not allow the flight to pass through its airspace, and therefore, the service had to take a longer route, going over Gujarat, adding around 40 minutes to the flight time on the onward journey as well as the return journey," officials said.
Longer route means higher fuel consumption, which may push the airline to increase the ticket prices or turn this non-stop service to one-stop service. Therefore, the officials said that India has requested Pakistan through diplomatic channels to grant the overflight clearance to this flight keeping in mind the larger interest of common people who have booked the tickets on this service.
"The Pakistan government is yet to give any specific reason for refusing the permission to the flight," they said. According to the officials, the flight, which operates four times a week, did not face any issue when it used Pakistan airspace between October 23 and October 31.
Go First has not issued any statement or comment on this matter as yet. The airline's Srinagar-Sharjah-Srinagar service is the first service between Jammu and Kashmir and the UAE after 11 years. Air India Express had started a Srinagar-Dubai flight in February 2009 but it was discontinued after some time due to low demand.
Reacting to Pakistan's action, former J&K chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah on Wednesday had 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."
Blaming the Centre, PDP chief and former J&K chief minister Mehbooba Mufti in a tweet had said, "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."
Inaugurating the flight, Shah had said that the commencement of Srinagar-Sharjah services would boost tourism. "There are many people from Srinagar and Jammu who are settled in the Gulf countries. There are many tourists who want to come from the Gulf countries to Jammu and Kashmir. The tourism of J-K is going to get a big boost with the commencement of Srinagar-Sharjah flights," he added.
The officials said the Srinagar-Sharjah flight takes around 3 hours and 40 minutes, while the return flight takes approximately 3 hours to reach the capital of Jammu and Kashmir if Pakistan airspace is used. With Islamabad refusing to allow the flight through its airspace, it adds around 40 minutes time during the onward journey as well as during the return journey, raising fuel and ticket costs, they mentioned.
"The Pakistan government, however, had allowed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's special flight to Italy to use its airspace on Friday to attend the G20 summit. His return flight from Italy was also allowed to use the Pakistan airspace on Wednesday," the officials added.