Over the last 11 days, there have been no flights between Islamabad to Skardu and the backlog of passengers in both areas is well into three figures.
Pakistan International Airlines (PIA), the only airline that flies to this main town of Baltistan, claims that the flights have been delayed due to bad weather or at times due to technical faults in its plane.
Over a hundred passengers from Islamabad who reserved flights to Skardu have expressed concern over the delay as the airline’s maintains it is still “uncertain” if the flights will continue in the next few days.
Meanwhile, hotel owners in Skardu have complained that the delay in flights is putting their businesses in jeopardy.
In a letter to PIA Chairman Air Marshal retired Rao Qamar Sultan, Arif Aslam Khan, who operates hotels in Skardu, maintained that over 500 people have been stranded in the hilly region, waiting to fly back to Islamabad. He said that as there was one flight from Islamabad to Skardu everyday during the tourism season, starting mid-May till mid- September, the backlog is increasing rapidly. He said that the backlog of passengers has also increased since the airline stopped flights to Skardu on Mondays since last October.
Khan maintained that even if the delay is due to bad weather or technical faults in the planes, the airline should have a contingency plan for people wanting to travel to Gilgit-Baltistan (G-B) during the tourism season. He added that the stranded passengers are not only tourists but also people wanting to visit their families in G-B.
Khan said that due to incidents of sectarian attacks and kidnappings of passengers on Karakoram Highway, road travel to Skardu is considered highly unsafe. He suggested that if PIA is facing technical issues with its planes, it could hire C-130 aircrafts to clear the backlog and also make up for the lost revenue.
Despite repeated attempts, PIA Spokesperson Sultan Ahmed could not be contacted for comments on the delay and if the airline is taking any remedial measures.
Published In The Express Tribune, June 17th, 2012.
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