Air safaris show travellers the stunning vistas of the city
For over a decade, air safaris have been available in Lahore. This business was at its peak right before the Covid-19 pandemic, which forced some air safari companies to shut down and led to others being hardly able to retain their employees. The idea of viewing cities from the air is old but the facility has been available to small numbers. Flying over the scenic Gaddafi Stadium, Model Town, the historic old Lahore and the Arfa Kareem Tower makes for an interesting tour.
Maj Syed Ejaz Mustafa (retired) of Travel Arz says, “A ten-minute flight over Lahore costs Rs 4500, for a broad spectrum of clientele.” According to the guidelines laid out by the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), these planes cannot fly above 5,000 feet. Most of the tours maintain an altitude of around 4,500 feet. Showing one’s identification card or birth certificate is necessary to board the planes. Children under the age of three can be carried for free. All emergency facilities, as prescribed by the CAA, are in place and duly checked.
The tour is fascinating and worthwhile. Travelling through the city on a car doesn’t match the experience. These companies make the experience of air travel affordable. Air safaris show travellers the stunning vistas of the city. The companies offering these tours say that their market is smaller here as compared to places like Dubai. However, people are gradually getting used to the idea.
City safaris are believed to have been started in 2003, by a South African company, The Exploration, which offers tours over parts of Africa. Later, the rest of the world started adopting this model and, in 2010, Emaar Properties of Dubai started giving aerial tours of the city. People have a mixed response to aerial tours. Some people like them, while others prefer to travel through the city on a car or bike to see the sights from up close. Air tours were initiated in Lahore by a private travelling company in 2005 and have flourished, with a few hiccups. The businesses have to have their tours of Lahore approved by the Civil Aviation Authority and. They have to skip the cantonment areas and are unable to show their guests The Mall due to security concerns.
The government needs to establish a comprehensive regulation regime for the industry, enable foreign investment and help more people establish their businesses.
Syed Ejaz says, “The aircraft belongs to a private aviation company registered with the CAA.” Two other companies that TNS spoke to did not provide information on where they get the planes from and just said ”third parties”.
The flight operations officer of the Travel Arz Company, Umair Ahmed, said, “The idea of flying is centuries old and it can’t be called the brainchild of anyone here. We can claim credit only in the sense of making it more accessible.” Tauqeer, the owner of another travel company, The Greeters, says that making people in Lahore aware of this facility was a major task. A large investment in advertising on Facebook and Instagram has made this idea of flying over Lahore and enjoying the aerial view successful.
Nabeel Islam, a tourist who has experienced this luxury, said that “it was a very refreshing experience, but sadly no devices with cameras were allowed. No refreshments were served as it was only a twenty-minute tour, taking off from the Walton Aerodrome in Lahore. The pilot gave a speech in the beginning regarding the tour.”
Imran Adil’s 23 years of experience in tourism couldn’t save his company, Ta’beer Tours, from going out of business. He seemed extremely passionate about the services that he used to provide. After the company closed due to the pandemic, he was forced to look for other opportunities. Other companies, such as Afzal Tours and Classic Tourism, too, have found the going tough. They said they had hoped that Aviation Minister Ghulam Sarwar Khan would provide them some respite during these trying times because they had voted for the incumbent government.
Raees Muhammad, a CAA-licensed pilot says, “The idea of joy rides is a mere waste of time. A 10-minute flight can’t be fulfilling… Also, it’s a luxury available only for the rich. Mostly trainee pilots give these tours as a gig to get some money from the wealthy.”
The idea of aerial tours appears attractive but up close one starts to notice the gimmicks. The government needs to establish a comprehensive regulation regime for the industry, enable foreign investment and help more people establish their businesses.
The writer is pursuing a degree in Mass Communication and Media Studies at the University of Central Punjab