If remote Leh town can have flights, then why Shimla has its wings clipped?
SHIMLA- In the recent years, there’s been one constant refrain in Shimla – if remote Leh town of Jammu and Kashmir can have flights, then why not this hill town?
Among the highest in the world, Leh’s Kushok Bakula Airport is located at an altitude of 10,682 feet and handles seven flights daily during summer season and has regular flights even during winters, when roads gets closed due to snowfall. On the other hand, Shimla’s Jubbar Hatti airport is at an elevation of 5,065 feet and has not had a single flight since September 6, 2012.
Air connectivity plays a vital role in promoting tourism in hill states like Jammu and Kashmir and Himachal Pradesh. Arduous road journeys can turn away tourists who can afford to opt for flight services to reach their destinations. Tourism business in Ladakh is thriving as regular flights from Delhi and Mumbai, besides Jammu and Srinagar, are available for Leh.
Shimla, on the other hand, has had its wings clipped ever since flights stopped coming. Even celebrities coming to Shimla complain of missing Air connectivity.
Bollywood actor Manisha Koirala, while shooting for a movie in Shimla recently, pointed out that snapped air link was a big stumbling block for visitors coming to Shimla, which was a tourist destination and popular among filmmakers.
For Leh, three airline companies including Air India, Jet Airways and Go Air provide regular services with daily seven flights landing from Delhi. This year, Go Air started Mumbai-Leh flight to this Himalayan region.
Ladakh Autonomous Hill Development Council (LAHDC), which administers the Leh region, chief executive councillor Dr Sonam Dawa Lonpo said, “During six winter months, 100% tourism activity depends on the air connectivity while during summer season 50% tourism depends on road and remaining 50% on air connectivity.”
“We are not satisfied NGS with the present number of flights to Leh and want to take it up further for which we are holding discussions with government,” he added.
Lonpo said that to ensure economical flight service, LAHDC had also taken up the issue of fixing air fare on hourly basis.
Discussion is on to have air fare fixed at Rs 2,500 per hour, which would further boost the air connectivity as more people would opt for flights.
HP Tourism Development Board vice-chairman, VijaY Singh Mankotia has been demanding flights on the pattern of J&K and North Eastern states, saying,
We too have similar problems, then why we are being treated differently.
Shimla-based hotelier and Tourism Industry Stake Holders Welfare Association president M K Seth said the hill town has 268 registered hotels and most have been affected by the non-operation of flights.
High-end hotels and resorts are affected the worst as tourists have stopped coming since the suspension of flights in 2012, he said.
Sources claim very few operators have planes suitable for smaller airstrips, like of Shimla, due to which options are limited. Besides, there are not many takers for flights due to high airfare, they add. Kingfisher was the only operator to fly the route but after the airline became insolvent. Sources said that Shimla airport runway can handle only an ATR-42 aircraft and no other scheduled airline flies ATR-42type plane at present.
Incidentally, Alliance Air a subsidiary of Air India connects Delhi with Kullu and Dharamshala with ATR-72 aircraft only.
Last year, the international tourist’s arrival in the state was seen at 4.06 lakh while the domestic tourist influx was marked at 171.25 lakh. The state has a bed capacity of 70,869 in nearly 2,600 hotels including the 59 hotel units of Himachal Pradesh Tourism Department Corporation (HPTDC).