Nepal, Sri Lanka ink revised ASA

Kathmandu, January 23:

Nepal and Sri Lanka are poised to have direct connectivity again after a decade-long hiatus. Officials of the two countries today signed the revised new Air Sevices Agreement (ASA) to start direct flights between Kathmandu and Colombo.

G N Vithanage, secretary at the Port and Aviation Ministry of Sri Lanka and leader of the seven-member visiting Sri Lankan team, and Ramchandra Man Singh, secretary at the Ministry of Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoTCA) signed the revised agreement on behalf of their respective countries.

The revised ASA will pave the way for both countries to operate 14 flights per week. Nepal and Sri Lanka had signed an ASA in 1977 and since then they have reviewed it several times — in 1999, 2004, 2007 and in 2008. But there was no direct filght between from the two countries after Nepal Airlines (NAC) — previously Royal Nepal Airlines (RNAC) — stopped flights to Colombo in 1998 due to various reasons.

“As there is an increase in the number of Sri Lankan tourists visiting Nepal, direct flights between Colombo and Kathmandu will help boost tourism and expand mutual trade and economic activities,” said Singh after the signing ceremony. A representative of Sri Lankan Air, however, said that they do not have any plans to start direct flights immediately. “We are thinking of extending the Colombo-New Delhi flight to Kathmandu at first,” the official said.

The revised ASA is more liberal than the earlier one. “The liberal framework of this revised agreement will boost connectivity between the two South Asian countries,” said Vithanage.

The revised ASA is also an opportunity for Nepali private airlines. “If Nepali private airliners want to fly to Colombo, this agreement has opened up a new avenue for them,” said MoTCA secretary Singh.

According to the new revised agreement — signed in Kathmandu today — there is no limit to cargo operations. The previous agreement allowed only a limited number of cargo flights. The agreement also provides fifth freedom right for designated airlines of both countries to use four points except New Delhi.

Nepal has ASAs with 35 countries and it has been renewing ASAs and increasing flight frequencies for mutual benefit with most of them. Currently, only one-and-a-half dozen countries have direct or connecting flights to Nepal’s capital Kathmandu.