August 17 resumption of domestic flights in doubt


The initial excitement among domestic airline operators over resumption of flights after nearly a five-month hiatus has begun to dampen.

With the number of COVID-19 cases rising, especially in areas bordering India which are among the busiest routes of domestic flight operators, it has only added to their anxiety as the resumption date of August 17 nears.

“All the airline companies are ready to operate flights in almost all sectors from the given date. However, the number of COVID-positive cases along the border areas has been increasing each day. These routes might be affected even after flights resume,” said Prajol Thapa, chief of the Marketing and Sales Department of Simrik Airlines.

He added that Birgunj, Simara, Biratnagar, Janakpur and Bhairahawa were COVID hotspots, while Pokhara and Bharatpur were considered safe zones. “Earlier, we had planned to operate flights in all sectors following safety protocols, but the increasing number of COVID cases has forced us to reconsider, particularly the destinations that pose high risk of COVID transmission,” he added.

According to Thapa, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal has decided to allow operation of only 33 per cent flights in the initial phase. “On the basis of this direction, all airline companies have submitted their flight operation applications to CAAN,” he said.

Anil Manandhar, corporate head of Shree Airlines, said airline operators would give topmost priority to public health.

“We are ready to operate flights, but it will be foolish to resume flights if COVID cases continue to rise and the public do not want to travel,” he said.

Stating that flights will remain suspended if the lockdown is imposed again, he added, “Even if the government allows flight operations, we will schedule our operations assessing the situation at the respective destinations.”

Shree Airlines is preparing to resume flights to destinations other than Janakpur and Simara in the initial phase.

Earlier, CAAN had announced it would allow 39 flights on the busiest routes and 48 flights on STOL (short take-off and landing) routes. On the basis of that, airline operators were planning their flights. Some have even published their schedules.

However, the increasing risk of COV- ID-19 has put them in a dilemma whether or not to resume flights on August 17.

“The recent situation has created a bit of confusion on flight resumption.

However, we are ready to operate flights if the government permits,” said Anoj Rijal, CEO of Yeti Airlines.

He expressed confidence that the flights could be operated following safety measures.

According to him, Yeti Airlines is planning to operate 11 flights per week in the initial phase of flight resumption.

A version of this article appears in e-paper on August 5, 2020, of The Himalayan Times.