Frequent cancellation of flights from Islamabad to Gilgit is seriously inconveniencing people, especially in the wake of the Kohistan bus massacre.
Officials in Pakistan International Airlines (PIA) blame cloudy weather in the valley for cancellation of flights, while stranded passengers have accused the administration of diverting aircraft to more profitable routes.
Hundreds of passengers from G-B have been stuck in Islamabad and Gilgit for days if not weeks on end. Most of them stuck in the federal capital, including patients and students have run out of money and can no longer afford to stay in the city.
Following the Kohistan tragedy in which 16 passengers from Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) lost their lives for their religious beliefs, people have begun to avoid travelling on the Karakoram Highway (KKH) for security reasons.
In addition to that, the arduous journey, which takes over 22 hours on the dilapidated KKH, is another reason passengers prefer to travel by air. ATR aircraft are scheduled to operate twice a day, except for Friday.
Only six out of 15 sorties have flown from Islamabad to Gilgit and back this month till Sunday.
Imtiaz Wali is one of the hundreds of G-B residents stranded in Rawalpindi since February. His father underwent open heart surgery in a private hospital in December and the doctors advised the patient not to travel long distance by road.
I have been trying for more than three weeks to get confirmed seats but each time when I call the airline, I am told the airplane is full, Wali told The Express Tribune on Sunday.
“I have overrun my budget and I cannot borrow more money from friends and relatives,” he added. “You can imagine the ordeal of travelling on the KKH with a heart patient.”
He also accused PIA of deliberately cancelling flights to Gilgit for financial benefit.
Sheraz Baig, another resident of Gilgit, stranded in Rawalpindi, echoed the same views as expressed by other stranded passengers.
“The fare for an hour’s flight to Gilgit from Islamabad is Rs5,500 to Rs7,300, while it is double the amount for Lahore and Peshawar and that too for a half-hour flight,” he said. “PIA is diverting the aircraft to other routes on the pretext of inclement weather in Gilgit.”
When contacted, PIA spokesperson Sultan Azam confirmed that flights to Gilgit and Chitral were frequently cancelled, adding that the flight to Kabul on Monday had also been cancelled due to snowfall.
He maintained that flights usually depart on time if the weather is clear.
Requesting anonymity, an official in PIA said there is a shortage of ATR aircraft which serves as a major factor in the cancellation of flights, apart from bad weather.
Interior Minister Rehman Malik had said PIA flights to Gilgit would be increased in view of the difficulties being faced by people, particularly after the Kohistan incident, while talking to the media in Gilgit on Saturday.
With additional input from Peer Muhammad in Islamabad
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2012.