Nepal’s aviation sector: Opportunities and challenges

Nepal’s aviation sector has seen a tremendous growth in recent years, but there are some important issues that to be addressed immediately in order to improve the overall performance of civil aviation systems in the country

Civil aviation has changed the way people travel and fuelled the concept of globalisation. No doubt, it is the fastest mode of travel and a rapid transit network at the service for mankind. As per Air Transport Action Group (AAG) 2016, with over 1,400 scheduled airlines, 26,000 aircraft in service, 3,900 airports and 173 air navigation services providers, aviation has established itself as an unmatched global network at the service of travellers and businesses in every corner of the world.

As there were technological innovations and advancements in the aviation sector, to develop and promote international civil aviation in a safe and orderly manner, the International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) was established in 1944. ICAO is a UN specialised agency. This also seeks to ensure that international air transport services are established on the basis of equality of opportunity and operated soundly and economically.

By Resolution A29-1, the 29th Session of the ICAO Assembly, held in 1992, affirmed December 7 of each year, starting in 1994, as International Civil Aviation Day to underscore and advance the reimbursement of international civil aviation. The Day was first observed in 1994, coinciding with 50th-anniversary activities of ICAO. The main objective of this celebration is to help generate and reinforce worldwide awareness of the importance of international civil aviation to the social and economic development of States, and of the exceptional role of ICAO in helping States to cooperate and realise a truly global rapid transit network. The theme for this year’s ICAO Day was “Working Together to Ensure No Country is Left Behind”.

As the UN and world nations have now adopted Agenda 2030 and embarked on a new era in global sustainable development, the importance of aviation as an engine of global connectivity has never been more relevant to the Chicago Convention’s objectives to look to international flight as a fundamental enabler of global peace and prosperity. A strong and affordable global air transport network transcends continents, greatly expands local access to foreign supplies and markets, provides invaluable opportunities for cultural and social exchange and enhances emergency and humanitarian response capabilities during crises and public health emergencies.

Nepal being one of the contracting states of ICAO, it has the obligation to follow the standard practices and recommendations.

For a land-locked country like Nepal, air transportation has been a blessing as far as global connectivity is concerned. Nepal’s Air Service Agreement (ASA) with 39 states, the latest with Cambodia, provides immense opportunities in terms of international air connectivity, travel, trade and tourism among others.

The government has always kept tourism on the top of its priorities. Nepal as a land-locked country heavily relies on air transportation for the influx of tourists. At the same time, air transport has contributed immensely in search and rescue operations in inaccessible mountainous terrains, in development projects, relief programmes and the health sector and in the times of disaster.

For tourism to flourish and to meet the tourist arrival targets set forth by the government, development of civil aviation especially in airport infrastructure, upgradation and strengthening of CNS/ATM (communication, navigation, surveillance/ air traffic management) systems, addition of more flexible and incoming routes and formulating investment-friendly policies are essential. Removal of Nepal’s aviation sector from Significant Safety Concern (SSC) list of ICAO is a remarkable achievement in recent times.  However, Nepal is yet to be removed from the air safety list of the European Commission.

But looking at the positive side, we have seen a noteworthy growth in terms of fleet expansion in international and domestic sectors. Additionally, there is a massive investment going on in charter helicopter operations.

Air traffic congestion at the only international airport in the country, Tribhuvan International Airport, has always been a concern for aviation stakeholders. To minimise the current problems faced by TIA, upgradation of TIA and three national pride projects—Gautam Buddha International Airport, Pokhara Regional International Airport and Nijgadh International Airport—are in the pipeline.  The GBIA is expected to be operational by 2019. Similarly, PRIA is under construction. The accession and ratification of Montreal Convention, 1999 by the Government of Nepal on August 23 this year is a huge step forward.

Though there have been significant achievements, some important issues need to be addressed immediately in order to improve the overall performance of civil aviation systems of Nepal. Splitting the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal into regulator and service provider should be a priority.

Moreover, a separate autonomous bureau for aircraft accident investigation should be established. Removal from EU Air Safety List, Ratification of Cape Town Convention, aviation diplomacy and investment-friendly policies among others are some major issues that need to be dealt with immediately to improve Nepal’s aviation sector.

Dangol is a technical officer at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation