THE resumption of PIA’s air safari flights to Skardu will hopefully attract international and domestic tourists, allowing them to enjoy the scenic mountain ranges that this country has to offer. The first air safari flight that flew from Islamabad airport earlier this week, after a hiatus of 14 years, had on board 91 tourists from 13 countries. The revival of the tourism industry has been one of the PTI government’s top priorities, and the re-launching of the air safari is among several initiatives taken by the authorities to boost local and international tourism. Others have included the opening of the Kartarpur Corridor and the inauguration of the Heritage Trail, both in Punjab. Home to the meeting point of three mighty mountain ranges, the Himalayas, the Karakoram and the Hindukush, Pakistan has been blessed with some of the world’s most magnificent peaks. The air safari will fly over the second highest peak in the world — K2 — the elusive Nanga Parbat and the Broad Peak glacier before landing in Skardu for a break and then fly back to Islamabad.

However, for this initiative to be a resounding success, the government must resolve the country’s civil aviation crisis on a priority basis and improve the services of the national flag carrier. Last year’s plane crash in Karachi, the issue of the fake licences and the ensuing ban on PIA by the European Union Aviation Safety Agency for failure to follow the necessary safety standards remain a matter of grave concern. Flying in mountainous regions requires both exceptional piloting skills and top-notch aircraft maintenance. After last year’s crisis, the country’s aviation sector has yet to prove to the world that it has both. Meanwhile, the government should consider launching infrastructure projects and expanding internet coverage in northern Pakistan. It is good that the authorities are working hard to exhibit the country’s natural beauty, but they should also take steps to provide travellers with basic modern amenities so that their stay here is comfortable along with being memorable.

Published in Dawn, June 22nd, 2021

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