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Pakistan denies use of its airspace for Srinagar-Sharjah flight

On Tuesday, Pakistani officials refused to allow Go First’s new Srinagar-Sharjah service to fly through their airspace, forcing the budget airline to reroute the service and add 40 minutes to its flying time, officials said. Despite the flight being inaugurated by the Union Home Minister 10 days ago, National Conference leader Omar Abdullah called Pakistan’s move ‘very unfortunate’ while Mehbooba Mufti criticized the Centre for not doing any groundwork before announcing the launch.

The Centre has not yet responded to Pakistan’s decision. A request for comment from Go Air on the development and its impact on the service was not responded to. Aviation experts estimate that the flight took three hours and forty minutes with the aircraft flying over Lahore, in Pakistan and entering Iranian airspace before landing in Sharjah. On Tuesday, the plane flew southward from Srinagar, over Rajasthan and Gujarat, then headed west to enter UAE airspace via Oman. The flight duration ended up being four hours and 20 minutes.

Flightradar24 reports that other flights departing from India and heading for west Asia and Europe continue to use Pakistan’s airspace. Following its October 23 launch, Go First operated five flights from Srinagar to Sharjah, using Pakistani airspace. The flight will be the first between J&K and the UAE since 2009, when an Air India Express service between Srinagar and Dubai was canceled after months of insufficient demand. The use of Pakistan’s airspace was also restricted for the Air India Express flight.

Go First CEO Kaushik Khona said in a statement when the airline launched the flight between Srinagar and Sharjah: ‘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 the bilateral exchange of trade and tourism between the two regions’.

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’. In February 2019, after the Balakot airstrike, Pakistan shut its airspace and forced Indian and foreign airlines to take longer routes, resulting in increased flight durations of 70-90 minutes. The airspace restrictions were in place for over five months, resulting in over Rs 550 crore in extra costs for Indian carriers alone.



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