GB CM calls PM as flights to Gilgit remain suspended indefinitely


–Flight services to GB suspended since March 1 after rising tensions on Indian border

ISLAMABAD: While flights operations between four provinces of the country have been resumed after suspension for a few days in the wake of escalating border tensions between Pakistan and India, the air services in Gilgit-Baltistan (GB) are yet to be restored despite the recent de-escalation.

Since the tourists, patients and government officials are stuck in the region due to unavailability of flights for over two weeks, GB Chief Minister Hafiz Hafeezur Rehman telephoned Prime Minister Imran Khan, requesting early resumption of the service.

According to official sources, the chief minister, in his telephonic conversation, sought support from PM Imran Khan in ensuring undisrupted flights of the national flag carrier, Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), between GB and Islamabad.

The chief minister also complained about the unannounced cancellation of PIA flights to GB by the aviation authorities. He regretted that the passengers, especially foreign tourists, are facing numerous problems due to unavailability of PIA flights between the two regions.

He demanded that the prime minister should direct the federal authorities to start helicopter service between GB and Islamabad so that serious patients and elderly citizens can be lifted. He said that dozens of patients in GB hospitals await medical treatment due to lack of PIA flights.

He added that PM Imran Khan assured of discussing the matter with federal authorities concerned, aimed at resolving the matter. On the chief minister’s demand, the prime minister said that emergent measures would be taken for the opening Babusar Top.

According to sources, the last flight operation was reported on March 1, 2019, between Islamabad and Gilgit. The flight services, since then, were suspended for an indefinite time. The PIA officials were also unaware of when the air service will be restored.

Sources said that the flight services to the region, before the escalation of tensions on the border following Indian violation of Line of Control on the night of February 25, had already been suspended for many days due to bad weather conditions.

“Only 20 flights have been operated between Islamabad and Gilgit Baltistan, strategically located northern part of the country, during the past 70 to 80 days,” said a travel agency owner, Zulfiqar Shigri, adding, “We do not know when the air services will be restored.”

The government had closed its airspace for commercial flights and suspended flight operations across major airports following the escalated tension with India. The Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) had earlier informed that the flight operations would remain shut until further notice. However, the services at all major airports were restored after a few days following improvement in the situation.

It may be mentioned here that the PIA operates 12 weekly flights between Gilgit/Skardu and Islamabad, but the flights are subject to the clearance of weather. The flights are often cancelled or delayed by several days due to turbulent weather.  Many tourists choose to travel to Gilgit and Skardu by air since the road travel between Islamabad and the region by Karakoram Highway (KKH) take nearly 24 hours, while the air travel takes only about an hour.