By Express News Service

NEW DELHI/SRINAGAR:  Pakistan refused to allow a recently launched Srinagar-Sharjah flight to use its airspace, a move which would not only lead to increase in flying time by around 40 minutes but also costlier fares. Go First had started direct flights between Srinagar and Sharjah from October 23 onwards.

Union Home Minister Amit Shah had inaugurated the direct flight between Srinagar and Sharjah on October 23 during his three day visit to Jammu  and Kashmir. The move marked the revival of the direct airlink between the Valley and the UAE after 11 years.

Sources said Pakistan refused its airspace to be accessed by Go First’s Srinagar-Sharjah flight. They added that the issue was reported to the ministries including civil aviation, external affairs, and home affairs.

From now on, the flight from Srinagar to Sharjah will have to fly via Udaipur, Ahmedabad and Oman.

News agency PTI reported that there was no reaction from Go First despite a request for a statement.

According to officials, Pakistan’s refusal on Tuesday forced the flight to take a longer route and fly over Gujarat to reach its destination in the UAE.

According to officials, till October 31, the flight was going through Pakistan airspace.

However, Pakistan on Tuesday did not allow the flight to pass through its airspace, and therefore, the service had to take a longer route, going over Gujarat, adding around 40 minutes to the flight time, they said.

There were no specific reasons given by the Pakistan government as yet for refusing the permission to the flight, officials said.

Officials said the flight, which operates four times a week, did not face any issue when it used Pakistan airspace between October 23 and October 31.

There was no immediate statement or comment from Go First on the matter.

This is the first service between Jammu and Kashmir and the UAE after 11 years.

Air India Express had started a Srinagar-Dubai flight in February 2009 but it was discontinued after some time due to low demand.

Reacting to Pakistan’s action, former J&K chief minister and National Conference leader Omar Abdullah tweeted “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.”

Blaming the Centre, PDP chief and former J&K chief minister Mehbooba 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.”

Inaugurating the flight, Shah had said the commencement of Srinagar-Sharjah services would boost tourism.

“There are many people from Srinagar and Jammu who are settled in the Gulf countries. There are many tourists who want to come from the Gulf countries to Jammu and Kashmir. The tourism of J-K is going to get a big boost with the commencement of Srinagar-Sharjah flights,” he added.

The Srinagar-Sharjah flight duration is around 3 hours if the Pakistan airspace is used, however, with Islamabad refusing to allow the flight through its airspace, it will be nearly an hour longer, raising fuel and ticket costs.

The Pakistan government, however, allowed Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s special flight to Italy to use its airspace on Friday to attend the G20 summit.

His return flight from Italy was also allowed to use the Pakistan airspace on Wednesday, officials said.

(With PTI Inputs)