CHITRAL: Reduction in the number of PIA flights to Chitral from Islamabad by more than half and selection of wrong timing for the nights leading to their frequent cancellation have adversely affected the influx of foreign tourists.
Local tour operators and hotel owners told this scribe that the number of tourists to Chitral had dropped to the lowest level over the years due to unavailability of PIA flights in five days of the week.
An owner of a tourist hotel in the city, Shahzada Sirajul Mulk, recalled that in 1980s the number of foreign tourists was at its maximum when the national flag-carrier used to operate three nights a day and an additional one on need basis.
He said the number of tourists started declining in direct proportion to the number of flights when these were reduced to two and one per day, and finally to the existing only two flights a week on Fridays and Saturdays.
Mr Mulk, who is also a former captain pilot of the airline, lamented that the existing flights were highly susceptible to cancellation on weather grounds, which mostly occurred due to selection of wrong timings.
He said that in mountainous areas like Chitral the morning time was more airworthy than the afternoon when the clouds started developing with each passing moment. He said that it was a pity that the timing of Chitral flights had been changed to afternoon, leading to their frequent cancellations.
The selection of weekdays, Fridays and Saturdays, for the two flights is inappropriate as one has to wait for five days if the flight is cancelled while the tourists have very limited time at their disposal.
The tourists coming to northern areas of the country for mountaineering and sightseeing in hilly areas get diverted to Gilgit-Baltistan due to availability of daily two flights each for Gilgit and Skardu.
He said it seemed that deliberate efforts were being made by certain circles in the centre to divert the tourists and mountain expedition teams to GB though Chitral was known as the `paradise of mountaineers`.
Fakhre Alam, a businessman in Chitral, complained that there was no reason to reduce the number of flights as there was no shortage of passengers and cargo to and from Chitral.
A number of power and road projects are being launched by foreign construction companies with foreigners as staff and tourists and local businessmen coupled with those working in international NGOs in the area who preferred to travel by air.
He said that Chitral could be a highly profitable route for the airline if the schedule of two daily flights was restored due to the high number of foreign visitors who paid fourtime more than the local visitors.
Mr Alam said that precious fruit of cherry, mulberry, apricot, apple and grapes could be sent to other districts only by air.
Published in Dawn on 3rd June, 2018.