Kathmandu, April 13
Aiming to increase air connectivity all over the country, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) in association with local governments had resumed operations of four domestic airports in fiscal year 2017-18 that had remained non-operational for a long time. Operations at Tarigaun airport of Dang district, Rajbiraj airport of Saptari district, Sanfebagar airport of Achham district and Balewa airport of Baglung district were resumed on the initiative of the respective local governments.
However, two of them, Rajbiraj and Balewa airports have again halted operations due to lack of passengers. Along with the assurance of seat occupancy from local governments, domestic airline companies had started flight operations in these airports. Balewa had resumed operations from March 20, 2018. However it has remained closed for the last four months. Tara Air and Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) were operating two flights a week on Sundays and Thursdays.
As the airline companies did not receive regular passengers, they have halted their service to Balewa airport.
There was mutual understanding between the airlines and Baglung Municipality for seat assurance before they began the flight service.
“Earlier we had assured 60 per cent seat occupancy to the companies and had also deposited Rs 1.2 million as bail amount to cover their loss,” said Janak Raj Poudel, mayor of Baglung Municipality.
But due to lack of passengers, airport had to be closed again. “We had conducted flights at Balewa after signing a seat assurance agreement with the municipality. They had assured 60 per cent minimum occupancy per flight, which could not be met so we stopped our flights,” said Bhim Raj Rai, an official of Tara Air.
The airport had earlier remained closed after the construction of the Pokhara-Baglung Highway in 1991.
“Prioritising the locals’ requests, we are trying to bring the airport back into operation,” he said, adding, “Few maintenance works are needed in the airport. So after completing those works, we will again approach the airline companies.” He further said that the airport could be an alternative to Pokhara airport.
Meanwhile, Rajbiraj airport has also been closed since April 1. The airport had resumed operations from May 24 last year and had been inaugurated by late tourism minister Rabindra Adhikari. In the beginning, Shree Airlines had operated five flights a week and later the number of flights was reduced to three flights a week. As per Shree Airlines, it halted its operations completely for maintenance of its aircraft. However, the company also mentioned that they did not receive the necessary number of passengers and no company can fly at a loss.
Dang and Sanfebagar airports, however, are operating one flight a week at the moment.
A version of this article appears in print on April 14, 2019 of The Himalayan Times.