GoFirst operated Srinagar-Sharjah flights for over a week
Pakistan has revoked overflight permission to a private Indian airline for Sringar-Sharjah flights.
The permission was reportedly granted to GoFirst, formerly known as GoAir, a low cost airline owned by Jehangir Wadia, who is a great-grandson of Pakistan’s founder Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
In response to questions by SAMAA Digital, a Pakistan Civil Aviation Authority spokesman has refused to comment over the issue. It is also not clear if the Indian government had secured a formal permission for Srinagar-Sharjah route or it was allowed only individual flights.
The first flight on the direct Srinagar-Sharjah route was operated on October 23, a day before Pakistan defeated India in an ICC T20 World World Cup match. The victory celebrations drowned the news about this important aviation development.
Some Pakistani analysts have wondered if the cricket match was used as smoke screen by the PTI government which extended the favour. They also questioned why Pakistan had not objected to the investment projects from the United Arab Emirates in the Indian held Kashmir.
Flight tracking websites, including flightradar24.com, show the Indian airline continued to operate direct Srinagar-Sharjah flights until November 01. GoFirst aircraft did not fly over the Line of Control, or LOC, between the Pakistan and India controlled parts of Kashmir. Instead, they would first fly towards Pathankot and Amritsar in the Indian Punjab and then enter Pakistani airspace near Lahore.
The data shows that GoFirst has not operated the direct flight since November 02 and has taken Srinagar-Delhi-Sharjah route instead, never entering Pakistani airspace.
On Wednesday, Indian news outlets reported that Pakistan has refused to allow GoFirst to fly in its airspace. “The matter has been reported to ministries concerned, including the civil aviation ministry, the external affairs ministry and the home ministry” Hindustan Times said on its website citing news agency ANI.
Pakistan Civil Aviation Spokesman Saifullah Khan told SAMAA Digital that he could not comment on the development. He refused to confirm that the overflight permission had been revoked.
Tension between India and Pakistan has often resulted in airspace restrictions in the past. In February 2019, when the two countries were on the brink of war, Pakistan closed its airspace for India airlines, causing them to take a longer route.
However, direct flights from Sringar were banned long before it. Pakistan briefly allowed an Indian airline to fly over its territory for Srinagar- Dubai flights during 2009 and 2010. The flight was operated by Air India Express, but it was eventually discontinued.
After the new ban, which has not been confirmed by Pakistani officials, National Conference leader and former chief minister of Indian Held Kashmir Omar Abdullah said Air India Express flight had also faced the same fate.
“Pakistan did the same this with the Air India Express flight from Srinagar to Dubai in 2009-2010. I had hoped that GoFirst airways being permitted to overfly Pak airspace was indicative of a thaw in relations but alas that wasn’t to be,” He tweeted on Wednesday.
Although Pakistan allowed GoFirst to overfly in good faith, at least one Kashmiri leader has suggested Modi government had not sought a formal permission.
On October 23, Indian Union Home Minister Amit Shah had flagged off the first flight from Sringar and billed it as an effort to promote trade and tourism between India and UAE.
PDP President Mehbooba Mufi said the Indian government had not done the “groundwork” for the permission.
“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,” she tweeted.
GoFirst owner Jehangir Wadia is a great-grandson of Mohammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan.
Jehangir Wadia was born to Nusli Wadia, who in turn is son of Neville Wadia and Dina Jinnah, the only daughter of Mohammad Ali Jinnah.
Dina married Parsi-born India Neville Wadia and decided to live in India when Pakistan was founded in 1947.
GoFirst began as a wholly owned subsidiary of the Wadia Group in 2005. It is the sixth Indian domestic carrier to fly international.