Srinagar- After the inauguration of much hyped Srinagar-Sharjah direct flight two years ago, the Srinagar’s Sheikh ul-Alam International Airport has barely seen any international flight taking off, barring the planes carrying pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for annual Hajj pilgrimage once a year.
The first international flight from Srinagar to Dubai was started on February 14, 2009 by Air India Express. However, once-a-week service was discontinued due to ‘low demand’ by the authorities.
Twelve years later in October 2021, the international flight operations were again resumed by the government with fanfare. Union Home Minister Amit Shah inaugurated the Srinagar-Sharjah Go First flight from the airport, aiming at restoring direct air connectivity between Kashmir valley and the UAE.
However, like Air India Express, Go First also suspended the operations. And since the airliner ceased its operations last year and filed for bankruptcy before the National Company Law Tribunal, no airline has reportedly come forward to restore the international service.
Javed Anjum, Director Srinagar International Airport said the international operations ceased before Go First airlines suspended its operations.
“The authorities decided to halt the operations since the footfall of international passengers was very less,” Anjum told Kashmir Observer.
However, private airliners have a different version on the claim of less footfall.
‘International airports can’t be just names and titles but more importantly infrastructure and facilities. To operate international flights, two runways are required, proper immigration facilities and public announcement systems too are needed. Where are all these facilities at Srinagar airport,” a senior official of a private airliner told Kashmir Observer.
He also questioned the absence of Instrument Landing System (ILS), besides a false ceiling inside the airport complex.
“Pigeon poop can be seen inside the terminals and waiting hall. A light snowfall, or fog grounds flights for days. What makes Srinagar international airport international?” he questioned.
However, Anjum said that Srinagar international airport has all facilities, including the ongoing installation of instrument landing system (ILS) necessary for operation of international flights. He said that AAI will be welcome, if any airline desires to operate international flights.
“We are here to facilitate them. It’s up to the airlines whether they want to operate or not,” he said, while noting that no airliner has come forward so far.
“The ILS is a technological upgrade and aims to bolster aircraft landing capabilities, particularly in scenarios with low visibility due to fog or challenging weather conditions. The visibility threshold is expected to increase to 800 meters,” he added.
Notably, four flights a week between Srinagar and Sharjah were announced in 2021 with the Jammu and Kashmir administration claiming that the resumption of direct flight to Sharjah will boost trade and tourism in the region.
Recently, the administration also claimed that they are trying their best to woo back foreign tourists to the Kashmir Valley.
Last month, Lieutenant Governor, Manoj Sinha said the number of foreign tourist arrivals in J&K has gone up by 350 per cent from the previous year.
“Srinagar hosted the G20 meeting (the third tourism working group meeting of the G20 member countries) and post that, the number of foreign tourist arrivals in J&K has gone up by 350 per cent from the last year,” the LG had said, during the inauguration of Vistadome rail coach at Nowgam railway station in city outskirts.
“The tourist and traders fraternity were upbeat when direct Srinagar to Sharjah flight was announced a few years ago. We were expecting more foreign tourists but then the operation was suddenly halted without any reasons,” said Rauf Tramboo, president of Travel Agents Association of Kashmir (TAAK).
He further said footfall of the tourists will gradually increase when the government will create “buzz” about the flight operation.
The tourism players argue that if the government promises to bring more foreign tourists, they should create adequate travel facilities for them.
“Why are no international flights taking off from Srinagar Airport despite it being declared an international Airport. Thousands of foreigners visited Kashmir this year. The number could be more if direct flights operate,” said Jan Mohammad, a guest house owner from Srinagar.
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