The Indian cabinet decided in January to open the airport in Indian Kashmir’s summer capital Srinagar, to international flights.
However, no target date for flights to start landing has been announced.
Workers are now upgrading the dilapidated airport, which is surrounded by massive security.
Ghulam Nabi Azad, Indian Kashmir’s chief minister, said on Wednesday that “work on the infrastructure at the airport will be expedited to enable international flights to land directly in Kashmir in about one-and-a-half year’s time”.
Tourist operators hope that opening Kashmir – once a major tourist destination – to international flights will bring in more foreigners to ski, trek and stay in the state’s famed houseboats.
“It will definitely increase our business. We expect a lot more visitors,” said travel agent Nazir Ahmed.
Separatists launched a struggle
Tourism is Kashmir’s economic lifeblood, and people in the industry have faced a desperate struggle since a revolt against New Delhi’s rule broke out 16 years ago.
However, since a peace process began between nuclear powers India and Pakistan to end their decades-old feud over ownership of the region, more and more Indian and foreign tourists have started visiting Kashmir.
Many foreign governments still warn their nationals not to visit the Himalayan state where grenade attacks, bomb blasts and shootouts between security forces and separatists are regular occurrences.
But Indian Kashmir authorities insist the state is safe for visitors.
Separatists are believed to have only targeted foreign tourists once, in 1995, when six travellers were kidnapped in the Himalayan foothills.
“The thrust of my government in the next two years will be to create the infrastructure to help boost tourism”
Ghulam Nabi Azad,
One escaped, another was beheaded and the fate of the other four was never discovered.
The biggest separatist group, Lashkar-e-Tayyiba, said last year it favoured tourism to “better the economic position of our brothers”.
But the random nature of attacks means no one can take safety for granted, embassies say.
“The thrust of my government in the next two years will be to create the infrastructure to help boost tourism,” Azad said.
He said there was a need for smaller aircraft and helicopter services to link tourist spots in the area.
Claims over Kashmir have triggered two wars between India and Pakistan which each hold the region in part but both claim in full.