Grounded international flights may get back wings

Srinagar, May 27: If all goes as planned, international flights may again operate from the Srinagar International Airport in next few months, brining respite to the stakeholders who have been pitching hard for revival of the service to bring Kashmir on the international air travel circuit.

Highly placed sources disclosed to Greater Kashmir that serious efforts are on in the power corridors of New Delhi to revive the grounded Srinagar-Dubai flight and also make a Srinagar-Jeddah flight operational.

The development comes in the wake of recurring demands from the stakeholders that the Srinagar-Dubai flightwhich was launched with much fanfare by the United Progressive Alliance (UPA) chairperson Sonia Gandhi on February 14, 2009be revived to give fillip to the tourism sector in Kashmir. The maiden international flight to Kashmir was grounded in January last year, with the Air India Express citing it was not a commercially viable venturesomething which the stakeholders never accepted.

At appropriate levels, New Delhi has set in motion the process to revive the international flights and in the concerned quarters feasibility study is also being undertaken to look into the commercial viability of the ventures. Once the exercise is completed, youll certainly see some positive headway on the issue, which has been a long-pending demand of the people of Kashmir, the sources disclosed.

The Ministry of Civil Aviation, the sources said, is in the process of persuading the Air India Express, a subsidiary of Air India, on the issue. So far there is nothing in black and white which says the Srinagar-Dubai flight was not a commercially viable venture. At least nothing of this sort has been communicated to the state government so far. There are, no doubt, some issues involved in the flight like a proper route plan, but those things can be sorted out, they said. It is in that connection, a feasibility study is must to sort out the issues facing the airlines and come up with a solution for the same. Having an airport with international tag serves no purpose. It has to be ensured that international flights operate from here so that the tourism sector in the Valley gets considerable fillip.

THE DEMANDS
The stakeholders have been crying hoarse to restore the Srinagar-Dubai flight and also the direct Hajj flights, which were not able to operate from the Srinagar International Airport, last year. The tourism and travel agencies in Kashmir had reacted sharply to grounding of the flights, describing the international status of the airport as a cruel joke being played with Kashmiris. After the public outcry, the state Congress chief, Prof Saif-ud-Din Soz, raised the issue in the Parliament, urging the Civil Aviation Ministry to restore the service. If you connect the flight with Jeddah, you will draw many customers, Soz had told the Parliament in May last year.

Sources said in the wake of criticism on the governments failure to get the Srinagar-Dubai flight restored, the Chief Minister Omar Abdullah recently took up the issue with the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.

WE ARE AT IT
When contacted, the Commissioner, State Civil Aviation Department, Capt S Katoch said the issue has been taken up at the highest level in the Centre.

And the state government is pursuing vigorously with the Government of India to recommence this operation, at least to the destination where it was working before and also to some other destinations. In a couple of months, we may see some decision in this direction, Katoch told Greater Kashmir.

The GOI is very much aware of the problem. A couple of meetings have taken place on the issue and another meeting is scheduled next month where the matter shall again be discussed.

FLYING RIGHTS ISSUE
Sources said route plans with regard to the international flights are also required to be reviewed. This comes in the backdrop of reports that foreign airlines are barred from carrying out operations from the Srinagar airport even though it has been designated as an international airport.

Foreign airlines cannot be allowed to operate direct flights from Srinagar as Pakistan does not allow these airlines to use its airspace (other than Indian) while flying to and from Srinagar. Foreign Airlines will have to follow a circuitous route, halting in either Delhi or Mumbai, a Delhi-based newspaper reported last year when Srinagar was ousted as embarkation point for Hajj pilgrims.

Sources said route permits need to be reviewed to see how best the flights can operate.

Lastupdate on : Fri, 27 May 2011 21:30:00 Mecca time
Lastupdate on : Fri, 27 May 2011 18:30:00 GMT
Lastupdate on : Sat, 28 May 2011 00:00:00 IST