Srinagar, Feb.26 : Srinagar Airport will open for the first time to international traffic this summer with the Airports Authority of India (AAI) taking steps to modernize the airport.
The terminal building of the airport is being expanded from the existing 6190 square meters to 16100 square meters and would have modern amenities like aero-bridges, central heating system, lifts, conveyor belts and escalators.
Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Ghulam Nabi Azad has said the international airport terminal would be ready by June 2008.
Rakesh Kalra, Director of the Srinagar Airport, said the opening of the Srinagar Airport to international traffic would ensure better connectivity with Gulf countries, which in turn would boost tourism in the state.
"Once this international airport is in place, our connectivity with the Gulf countries will improve. This would further boost the tourism in the region and would attract international tourists. Also, once tourism receives a boost, the valley would return back to complete normalcy and people would no longer be afraid of coming here. The tourists would go back to their respective nations and spread the word around, bringing about more tourism for the state. This modernization of the airport and internationalizing would surely be a big gift to the state, we will benefit a lot," said Kalra.
Last year 430,000 tourists, including 23,000 foreigners visited Kashmir.
Kalra observed that the state's economy would also benefit with the direct export of its horticulture produce to global markets.
"The exports of fruits and dry fruits will also receive a boost. These fruits have an international market but since we do not have the infrastructure in place, in the current scenario, we are not able to make huge profits. Our products will get an international exposure and will help in reviving back our economy," said Kalra.
Horticulture constitutes a critical area of the state's economy, contributing more than four billion rupees of the state's domestic product. About 20 percent of the total cultivated area is under horticulture crop engaging about 4.5 lakh families directly or indirectly. The Kashmir Valley exports apples, walnuts, almonds, pears, cherries, apricots, peaches, saffron and exotic flowers to various parts of the country and abroad.
Locals see a big economic opportunity in having a world-class airport and said that it would help in restoration of peace and normalcy in the region. A local tour operator said that it would bring about more employment opportunities for them.
Tourism is the mainstay of Kashmir's economy as it contributes a major chunk to the business in the region and helps in generating much needed employment in the State.
"This step will bring about more employment opportunities in the region. After all, the economy of the valley depends on tourism and the international airport will encourage tourists to come to the region," said Manzoor Ahmad, a tour operator.
Trade analysts observe that it would also benefit international travelers, including the Haj pilgrims from Jammu and Kashmir who would be able to fly to Saudi Arabia direct from Srinagar. Last year, over 8,100 Muslims from the state performed Haj after flying out from Delhi.