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Launch of Delhi-Shimla flight cheers tourism industry

IANS | Shimla |

High-end travellers to Shimla are all set to take off with the launching of a regular flight from New Delhi after being grounded for almost over four years, the hospitality industry said on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi during his day-long visit to the "Queen of Hills" will launch the central government's subsidised air regional connectivity scheme UDAN, or "Ude Desh ka Har Nagarik", building efficient regional air connectivity, from Shimla's airport at Jubbarhatti on April 27.

Members of the tourism industry are elated as they are hopeful that high-end tourists, especially foreigners and business travellers, will return to the state capital and its nearby destinations with the plying of regular flights after a long break.

Kingfisher was the only airline that operated regular flights between Delhi and Shimla till September 6, 2012. 

"We are very much hopeful that regular operation of flights from Shimla will give boost to the tourism industry," D.P. Bhatia, liaison officer with Shimla-based Oberoi Group of hotels, told IANS.

He said closure of the Shimla airport had affected the hotel industry badly.

"The regular flights are now restoring ahead of the peak (summer) season, which is good for the hospitality industry. Otherwise, this time again we are going lose business travellers to Srinagar," Bhatia added.

Except regular flights, some unscheduled chartered flights were coming every month to Shimla.

Himachal Pradesh Tourism Development Corp (HPTDC) General Manager Vijay Sharma said regular plying of flights would give a big boost to the tourism industry.

"There was more negative publicity earlier by travel agents that Shimla and its nearby destinations were not connected by air. This was somehow discouraging the high-end tourists. Now once again you will see noticeable spike in business tourists," he added.

The annual tourist arrival in Himachal Pradesh crossed 1.8 crore (18 million) in 2016. The tourism sector contributes approximately seven per cent of the State Gross Domestic Product.

According to Economic Survey report of 2016-17, a total of 2,604 hotels having bed capacity of 70,869 are registered with the state tourism department.

State Chief Secretary V.C. Pharka said necessary arrangements, including repair of 300 feet of sunken portion of the runway and providing refueling facility, for have been completed at the Jubbarhatti airport the operation of flights.

State Commissioner of Tourism and Civil Aviation Dinesh Malhotra said all the 10 tickets, each costing Rs 1,920, for the inaugural flight to Delhi from Shimla have been sold out at the HPTDC office at Shimla's Scandal Point.

A regular flight, which will operate five days in a week from Wednesday, will depart at 6.10 a.m. from Delhi and will arrive here at 7.25 a.m.

On the same day, it will depart at 7.45 a.m. from Shimla and will return to Delhi at 8.45 a.m.

State Chief Minister Virbhadra Siingh and state Tourism Development Board Vice Chairman Vijai Singh Mankotia had raised the issue with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) a number of times to restart the regular flight and to explore the possibility of expanding the Shimla airstrip to facilitate landing of bigger aircraft.

The state high court, while hearing a public interest litigation on resumption of flights to Shimla, had issued notices to the state and central governments a number of times on poor air connectivity in the state.

Even the Supreme Court last year had asked the central government to ensure that every airline had flights to uneconomical sectors such as Delhi-Shimla, instead of opting only for profitable sectors.

Government officials said that landing aircraft at the Shimla airport is a challenge, as it is one of the three tabletop airports in the country.

It is called tabletop because of the deep gorges surrounding the runway.