Srinagar: Pakistan has denied use of its airspace for flights from Srinagar to Sharjah – operated by low-cost airline Go First – that was inaugurated by Home Minister Amit Shah during his visit to Jammu and Kashmir last month. Due to the decision, the flight from Srinagar to Sharjah will be more than an hour longer as planes will have to fly via Udaipur, Ahmedabad and Oman. The flight will also be more expensive.
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.
On October 23, Union Home Minister Amit Shah flagged off the inaugural Srinagar-Sharjah flight from the Sheikh Ul-Alam international airport in Srinagar, reviving the direct airlink between the valley and the UAE after 11 years.
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.
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”.
“Very unfortunate. Pakistan did the same thing with the Air India Express flight from Srinagar to Dubai in 2009-2010. I had hoped Go First being permitted to overfly Pak airspace was indicative of a thaw in relations but alas that wasn’t to be,” Mr Abdullah tweeted.
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.
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.
— Omar Abdullah (@OmarAbdullah) October 23, 2021
Pakistan has, however, been allowing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to use its airspace.
Most recently the Prime Minister’s plane crossed Pak airspace to and from Europe, when he was attending the G20 and COP26 summits in Italy and Scotland, respectively. And in September, when the PM flew to the United States, his flight was also allowed to use Pak airspace.