EDITORIAL: New air routes

That the deal has been reached, focus now should be on early operationalisation of the new air paths

Nepal and India have agreed to open three new air routes – from Biratnagar, Janakpur and Mahendranagar – in a major breakthrough for the country’s aviation sector. A three-day meeting between officials of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) and Airports Authority of India (AAI) on Saturday culminated in a deal to open the new air routes which will be bidirectional – that aircraft can use these three points for flying in to and out of Nepal. Airplanes flying out of Nepal are currently allowed only exit facilities through Janakpur, Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj and Mahendranagar. The only authorised air entry point to Nepal from south is Simara. In this sense, the Nepal-India agreement on new air routes holds a lot of significance. Further process to finalise and materialise the deal would be initiated through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, according to a top CAAN official.

The airspace agenda had been pending for quite some time. Nepali authorities had formally requested India to open new cross-border air routes back in 2014 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited Nepal in August that year. Subsequently, officials from Nepal two years later had visited New Delhi in 2016 to start negotiations. However, the plan to open new cross-border air routes had failed to take off due to various reasons, including the elections in Nepal the following year in 2017. Airspace was again a key agenda during Indian Prime Minister Modi’s another visit to Nepal on May 11-12 this year. As a result, Nepal-India high-level talks were planned to discuss the possibilities of opening new air routes between the two countries. The delay in reaching any agreement on cross-border air routes had made Nepal increasingly jittery of late, given the new regional international airports the country is building in Pokhara and Bhairahawa and the second international airport in Nijgadh.

For Nepal, connectivity will be a crucial factor as the country embarks on the path to prosperity. Tourism can play an instrumental role in Nepal’s development, and air connectivity will hence be the key. In this regard, the agreement comes as very good news, as these routes will facilitate the operation of international flights from the three regional airports which are likely to come into operation very soon. The Gautam Buddha Regional International Airport in Bhairahawa is scheduled to come into operation next year, while construction of the Pokhara Regional International Airport is expected to be completed by July 2021. Works to build another international airport in Nijgadh have also started. For the full-fledged operation of all these new airports, airspace will be the key. Biratnagar and Janakapur air routes will mainly cater to incoming and outgoing flights of Nijgadh International Airport. That the agreement has been reached, focus now should be on early operationalisation of the new air paths. Officials from both sides have agreed to conduct a safety assessment of newly agreed upon routes in both the countries. After the completion of the safety assessment by the technical teams of the both sides, a report has to be published in an aeronautical information publication for the new air routes to come into operation.

New leprosy cases 

The District Public Health Office, Rupandehi has detected as many as 43 new leprosy cases in this fiscal. As the new cases of leprosy have been detected it is unlikely to declare the district free from the disease. A district is usually declared leprosy-free if no new cases are detected for some years. Leprosy is a contagious disease that affects the skin, mucus membranes and nerves causing discolouration and lumps on the skin. In severe cases a patient suffers from disfigurement and deformations.

The DPO record shows as many as 107 patients are still undergoing treatment in the district which is down by 58 compared to previous fiscal. Twenty-seven places, mostly southern part of the district, are prone to the disease while 22 others are said to be safe from the disease. Leprosy is a curable disease if a patient undergoes regular treatment and takes full dose of medicine provided by the government free of cost. Although treatment and medicine are freely available people hesitate to disclose the disease fearing social ostracism. Concerned health authorities must raise awareness to detect the disease that is associated with social stigma.