Pakistan has denied use of its airspace to a Srinagar-Sharjah direct flight — operated by low-cost airline Go First — that was inaugurated by Home Minister Amit Shah during his visit to J&K last month. The Civil Aviation, External Affairs and Home Affairs ministries had been informed of this development, government sources said.
The denial has raised questions over the viability of the flight, raising fears it may meet the same fate as the 2009 Srinagar-Dubai service shelved due to low demand after Pak closed its airspace.
Re-routing of flights from Srinagar to the United Arab Emirates (to ensure it doesn’t cross Pakistani airspace) adds over an hour of flying time, raising fuel and ticket costs. The first Srinagar-Sharjah flight took off on October 23.
According to flight tracking service Radar24, services up to October 30 crossed Pak airspace but on November 2 the plane flew over Rajasthan and Gujarat, before turning west over the Arabian Sea. Go First has said it plans to continue offering the service (on alternate days) for now.
Meanwhile, Former J&K Chief Minister Mehbooba Mufti has hit out at the government for clearing the flight without laying the necessary groundwork; the PDP chief called Mr Shah’s flagging off a “PR stunt”.
“Puzzling the Government of India didn’t even bother securing permission from Pakistan to use its airspace for international flights from Srinagar. PR extravaganza without groundwork,” she tweeted.
Another ex-Chief Minister, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah, tweeted “very unfortunate”.
Interestingly, last month, as Amit Shah flagged off the first Srinagar-Sharjah flight, Mr Abdullah had tweeted a word of caution, saying he hoped “Pakistan had a change of heart…Regarding the Srinagar-Sharjah flight announced today — has Pakistan had a change of heart and 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,” he tweeted.
Politically though, looks like the BJP will now use this issue to politicise and rake up India-Pakistan differences again as it heads towards UP elections next year, which are already witnessing a high-voltage fight between the local and national parties in the state.