After almost six years, the Saidu Sharif Airport in Swat has been renovated and is ready to re-open.
Established in 1978, the airport, which handled two daily flights from Islamabad and Peshawar, was closed during militancy in Swat valley.
“The airport has been renovated and we have informed PIA. The service will resume as soon as they provide us a flight schedule,” Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) Public Relations Officer Pervez George told The Express Tribune on Wednesday.
Authorities say about 1,000 people from Swat travel abroad every day. Most of them used to take a flight from Saidu Sharif to catch their international flights.
Ahmad Shah, a travel agent, explained that travelling via road is cumbersome because of the high number of check points. “The passengers end up missing their flights. So to avoid such a situation, they normally leave ahead of time and stay at hotels. This not only wastes time but also costs more.”
Majority of the business commodities, he added, are imported to Swat from Punjab. For this, traders and business communities have to travel 12 hours by road, which is both time-consuming and risky.
“As many as 14 buses carrying businessmen and traders daily travel to Lahore. But often, they get robbed on the way. The business community is facing a tough time due to the grim situation of security and delay in transportation,” he added.
The owner of another travel agency, Zahir Shah, said, “There is dire need of air services from Swat to Lahore.” He said that as Lahore has an international airport, other business communities working abroad will prefer the route for foreign travel.
Tourism is considered to be the backbone of the economy in Swat, but deteriorating roads and issues of insecurity has reduced the number of tourists to half. “Majority of tourists visit Swat from Punjab and Sindh. They have to travel on rough roads. The airport will ease their burden and boost tourism in the region,” Shah added.
The valley is one of the largest producers of fruit but according to Fruit and Vegetables Association Swat, half of their harvest goes to waste owing to slow transportation.
“As we have no freezing facilities for storing fresh fruit, half of the stocks get wasted. An air cargo service will benefit local farmers and dealers,” Zamin Khan, a fruit dealer, said.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 12th, 2012.
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