Friday, November 05, 2021

Pakistan's refusal to allow Srinagar-Sharjah GoFirst flight an isolated incident: Observers

Pakistan’s decision to first allow and then deny GoFirst permission to use its airspace for flying between Srinagar and Sharjah in the United Arab Emirates is being viewed as an isolated incident by Indian pilots and the aviation community at large.

According to industry observers, Pakistan’s decision to deny GoFirst permission perhaps has to do with the fact that the flight originates in Srinagar, the summer capital of Jammu and Kashmir.  GoFirst is the only Indian carrier operating on this route.

Home minister Amit Shah flagged off the inaugural GoFirst flight from Srinagar to Sharjah on October 23. Media reports say that GoFirst was allowed to fly through Pakistan airspace for the first couple of days, but the permission was abruptly withdrawn.

“Perhaps it was not such a smart move to initiate the route (Srinagar-Sharjah) given the sensitivities (between India and Pakistan),” said an aviation industry watcher with over four decades of hands-on airline route planning experience.

Former Jammu and Kashmir chief minister Omar Abdullah commented on Twitter on November 3: “Very unfortunate, Pakistan did the same thing with the Air India 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.”

Even as Pakistan withdrew permission to GoFirst, other airlines both from India and the Gulf are overflying Pakistani airspace. People in Air India familiar with the development said the airline was using Pakistani airspace.

A pilot from a private airline added that the carrier was “flying to the Gulf and using Pakistan airspace extensively.” The pilot declined to be identified because he is not authorized to speak to the media.

People in Gulf carriers operating between India and West Asia using Pakistan airspace also indicated that the airlines were not facing any problems using Pakistani airspace on their flights from various Indian cities. No Gulf carrier operates between Jammu and Kashmir and the Gulf.

Every country marks out several entry and exit points for various airlines to use. When these entry and exit points are shut, airlines need to consider alternative routes for flying on the same sector. This either involves flying longer or stopping at an intermediate point before reaching the final destinations.

Globally commercial airlines typically fly from east to west. All airlines also try and fly a straight route so that they can save fuel. This is possible when the airspace over a countryis open and, more importantly, safe to fly over.

05/11/21 Ashwini Phadnis/Moneycontrol

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