Kathmandu, March 23

In a bid to reduce growing traffic congestion at Tribhuvan International Airport, the government is planning to re-route Kathmandu-Lukla regular flights through Biratnagar.

Talking to THT, Raj Kumar Chhetri, director general of TIA, said discussions with stakeholders were under way to operate direct flights to Lukla from Biratnagar, instead of Kathmandu. “As Lukla airport is unable to handle large aircraft, a large number of small 18-seater aircraft ferry passengers to the remote destination from TIA which is adding to the congestion at the country’s only international airport. If we are able to re-route the Kathmandu-Lukla flights via Biratnagar, TIA’s traffic congestion can be reduced notably,” said Chhetri.

Chhetri said under the new plan bigger 72-seater aircraft would carry Lukla-bound passengers to Biratnagar airport, from where smaller aircraft will ferry passengers to Lukla airport. According to TIA, almost 100 daily flights are operated between Kathmandu and Lukla during the tourist season, while an average of 25 flights are operated daily on the route on other days.

“If everything goes according to plan, we’ll roll out this system by September,” said Chhetri.

While the plan might address TIA’s traffic congestion to some extent, Lukla-bound passengers will lose on time, as well as pay more airfare.

Domestic airline operators have said that though re-routing Kathmandu-Lukla flights is good for the country’s aviation industry, the government should develop a concrete methodology to execute the plan.

“If Kathmandu-Lukla flights are re-routed through Biratnagar airport, passengers will have to pay at least $25 extra. The government should justify the additional time and financial burden that passengers will have to bear while re-routing Kathmandu-Lukla flights,” said Ghanashyam Acharya, spokesperson for Airline Operators Association of Nepal.

Officials of Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal — the country’s aviation sector regulator — said that though re-routing Kathmandu-Lukla regular flights through Biratnagar airport is technically viable, discussions are under way regarding the commercial viability of the plan. “We are holding discussions with stakeholders on this matter,” Birendra Shrestha, spokesperson for CAAN, told THT.

Meanwhile, CAAN officials said even if the aforementioned plan materialised, chartered flights and other rescue-related flights to Lukla would be carried out through Kathmandu-Lukla route.

Tourism entrepreneurs are optimistic that the plan to re-route Kathmandu-Lukla flights will have a positive impact on the country’s tourism. However, they are of the opinion that visiting tourists or passengers should have the option of either flying from Kathmandu to Lukla directly or via Biratnagar.

“If the government implements its plan of re-routing Lukla-bound passengers via Biratnagar, tourists will also get a chance to explore a new destination, but extensive ground work is necessary before the plan is rolled out to ensure that passengers do not suffer,” Subash Jha, a board member of Pacific Asia Travel Association Nepal, told THT.