Rise in air service agreements fails to increase flight connectivity

Kathmandu, December 4

The government last week signed an air service agreement (ASA) with Cambodia and with this Nepal has now signed such pacts with 39 countries across the world. However, the national flag carrier — Nepal Airlines Corporation — is currently flying to only eight international destinations in six countries, which has raised questions on the rationale behind inking ASA with many countries if Nepal cannot operate flights to those destinations.

Aviation stakeholders have said that ASA should be guided by tourism prospects from the destination country.

“Signing ASA is not bad in itself. However, Nepal has failed to make optimum use of the ASA signed with various countries due to the failure of our airlines to boost their capacity,” said Tri Ratna Manandhar, former director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN).

Along with increasing the capacity of Nepali airlines, especially Nepal Airlines, Manandhar also opined that responsible government bodies should promote the country’s tourism potential in countries with which the government has signed ASA. “If Nepal fails to do so, only signing ASA will not help the aviation and tourism sector expand as expected.”

Nepal Airlines at present flies to only eight destinations of six countries despite an ASA being signed with more than three dozen nations. The national flag carrier has scheduled flights to New Delhi, Bangalore, Mumbai, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok, Hong Kong, Doha and Dubai from Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA), Kathmandu.

Former tourism secretary Yagya Prasad Gautam accepts that Nepali airlines have not been able to properly analyse international markets. “Signing ASA opens the door for connectivity and it is up to the capacity of domestic airlines to grab the connectivity opportunity,” he said.

Questions are also being raised on why the government rushed to ink ASA with Cambodia though the flow of Cambodian tourists in Nepal is very low. The Nepal Tourism Board (NTB) does not have the actual data of Cambodian tourists in Nepal. “They are a few in number and are listed under the ‘other tourists’ category in our foreign tourist arrival database,” informed Deepak Raj Joshi, chief executive officer of NTB.

Officials at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA) defended the signing of ASA with various nations citing that though Nepali airline companies have not been able to fly to all respective nations, the agreement will allow airlines of destination countries to fly to Nepal.

Meanwhile, Suresh Acharya, joint secretary at MoCTCA, said that the government will seek ways to make optimum use of ASA and diversify Nepal Airlines’ connectivity to these nations. He informed that the government is planning to use the country’s Fifth Freedom Traffic Rights to fly to countries with whom Nepal has signed ASA, including Cambodia. This right allows airline companies to carry passengers from one’s own country to a second country and from that country to a third country and further on.