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Pakistani Authorities Tuesday did not allow Go First’s new Srinagar-Sharjah flight to use their country’s airspace, forcing the budget airline to reroute the service and add 40 minutes to its flying time, Government officials said.
Pakistan’s move, which comes 10 days after the flight was inaugurated by Union Home Minister Amit Shah, was described as “very unfortunate” by National Conference leader Omar Abdullah while PDP’s Mehbooba Mufti blamed the Centre for not doing “any groundwork” before launching the service.
The Centre is yet to respond to Pakistan’s decision. Go Air did not respond to requests for comment on the development and its impact on the service.
According to aviation experts, the original service took three hours and 40 minutes with the aircraft entering Pakistan airspace, flying above Lahore, proceeding southwest over the country, and entering Iranian airspace before landing in Sharjah.
On Tuesday, they said, the flight went southward from Srinagar, flying over Rajasthan and Gujarat before heading west to enter UAE through Oman airspace. As a result, the flight duration stretched to four hours 20 minutes.
According to information sourced from flight tracking portal Flightradar24, other flights originating from India to west Asia and Europe continue to use Pakistan airspace.
Go First, formerly known as GoAir, operated five flights from Srinagar to Sharjah, following its October 23 launch, using Pakistani airspace.
It is the first air connection between J&K and the UAE since 2009, when an Air India Express service between Srinagar and Dubai was shut within months due to poor demand. The Air India Express flight was also subject to restrictions from Pakistan on using the country’s airspace.
While announcing the launch of the Srinagar-Sharjah flight, Go First CEO Kaushik Khona had said in a statement: “We are delighted to be the first airline to connect Jammu & Kashmir with UAE and it bears testimony to our commitment to the region. We believe that this connectivity will be pivotal in bilateral exchange of trade and tourism between the two regions.”
Following Pakistan’s move, former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah posted on Twitter: “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.”
Former Chief Minister Mufti tweeted: “Puzzling that GOI didn’t even bother securing permission from Pakistan to use its airspace for international flights from Srinagar. Only PR extravaganza without any groundwork.”
Over two years ago, following the Balakot airstrike in February 2019, Pakistan had shut its airspace and forced Indian and foreign airlines to take longer routes, which extended flight durations by as much as 70-90 minutes. The airspace restrictions remained in place for over five months, due to which Indian carriers alone lost over Rs 550 crore in extra costs.
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