Beauty of Northern parts of Pakistan attracts every one of us and we all wish that one day we visit the place with our loved ones. The excursion trip requires planning in advance, ranging from travelling arrangements to boarding / lodging and getting outfits ready for the cooler weathers of Gilgit Baltistan. People often prefer travelling by air to Gilgit as the alternative i.e. road, is tiring and takes up a lot of time.
But the travel by air is not a straight forward proposition. We all must have met relatives and friends complaining about the weather of Gilgit which had thwarted their visit plan. With the benefit of living in Gilgit, I will, in following lines try to explain why the flights to Gilgit are cancelled often:- (Disclaimer : I am not an aviation expert)
a. Gilgit is surrounded by high mountains and any aero plane trying to land on Gilgit Airport has to remain mindful of the lack of space for an ideal descend and approach to the airport, therefore, only smaller planes ply on this route. PIA relies on ATR on this route.
b. Any cloud cover on the mountains surrounding Gilgit, especially low clouds do not allow any flight operation. Unfortunately clouds are a regular phenomenon in Gilgit and it affects the flight operation very regularly.
c. The biggest hurdle in the flight is the weather en-route. A flight plying from Islamabad to Gilgit encounters places like Naran, Chillas, Bunji and Nanga Parbat, all located at high altitudes with unpredictable and abrupt weather changes. If the weather of any of these places is not satisfactory the pilots do not undertake flight owing to safety reasons.
d. Considering the weather pattern of Gilgit, ideal time to travel is early morning and at present, both flights scheduled for Gilgit from Islamabad reach before 8.30 AM at Gilgit. PIA does not wait for long for improvement in weather and the flights usually get cancelled before 9 AM. Sometimes, weather improves in the later part of the day but due to non-availability of planes with PIA, the flights do not operate.
e. With the inauguration of new airport at Islamabad, the factor of fog has also come into the equation, as early morning flights do not get clearance from Islamabad Airport in winters and once situation improves in Islamabad, the unpredictable weather of Gilgit comes into play. Hence, the passengers are often left frustrated. Recently a video of a Minister of Gilgit Government became viral on social media, who vented out his frustration on airport staff upon repeated cancellation of flights to Gilgit.
f. No other airline has flights scheduled for Gilgit and once the flight gets cancelled, tickets are usually not available for next 2-3 days, thus completely jeopardizing the itinerary. Only two ATRs fly daily from Islamabad to Gilgit which cater for a maximum of 90 passengers (including both flights).
In future, if any of you are planning an excursion trip to Gilgit, please check weather before booking flights and if there is any hint of bad weather, refrain from travelling on that particular day. Moreover, PIA needs to allocate more planes for Gilgit, as not only tourists but a large number of local populace is also dependent on these flights. PIA should dedicate at least one plane for Gilgit which should be able to travel to Gilgit in later part of the day if the weather improves.