Govt studying options to airlift aviation fuelThe government on Wednesday formed a committee to recommend options to fly in aviation fuel for domestic airlines amid mounting fears that the country’s airlines could be grounded for lack of fuel.
The government on Wednesday formed a committee to recommend options to fly in aviation fuel for domestic airlines amid mounting fears that the country’s airlines could be grounded for lack of fuel.
Surface transportation has been largely crippled due to gasoline shortages and a long-running agitation in the southern Tarai belt that has cut off major highways. The seven-member panel under the coordination of Tourism Joint Secretary Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane has been told to submit its recommendations by 11am on Thursday.
International airlines serving Nepal have already been told to carry return fuel as they will not be able to refuel at Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) in Kathmandu which is fresh out of stock.
As the store of aviation fuel kept for domestic airlines has started to go down at a faster rate with a sudden rise in the number of air travellers, the government is worried that domestic carriers could be immobilized on the eve of the festival season in Nepal. The daily fuel requirement of domestic airlines stands at 50,000 litres.
Suresh Acharya, joint secretary of the Tourism Ministry, said that a meeting held between the Home and Supplies ministries, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal, Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) and Nepal Airlines Corpora-tion (NAC) discussed three options to forestall an expected aviation turbine fuel (ATF) crisis by bringing fuel by air.
The first option discussed was to use Russian Ilyushin Il-76 aircraft, a heavy transport jet, that can transport up to 50 kilolitres of fuel. Using Mi-17 helicopters to transport fuel from cross-border points to oil depots in the Tarai where domestic aircraft can refuel. An Mi-17 can ferry up to 4 tonnes of fuel.
The third option proposed at the meeting was to request China and the US Air Force to airlift jet fuel. The meeting has also decided to request Nepali private helicopter companies to transport fuel. Likewise, the option to use NAC’s jets to airlift fuel has been kept open.
“The committee has been directed to conduct a study of the technical and financial aspects of airlifting fuel,” said Acharya, adding that the plan submitted by the committee would be tabled at higher levels of the government. After the government approves the scheme, formal talks will be held with the parties concerned. Most international airlines serving Nepal have changed aircraft and their refuelling points after being informed by Nepal Oil Corporation (NOC) that it would be halting refuelling services at TIA from Tuesday.
There are 25 international airlines currently serving Nepal, and they make 70 take-offs and landing daily.
TIA authorities have barred foreign carriers from taking fuel at TIA citing a worsening jet fuel crisis caused by the unofficial trade embargo imposed by India. Airport officials said that the tough decision followed strong requests from NOC. The national flag carrier has also been mulling instructing its east-bound aircraft to refuel in Kolkata and Dhaka, Bangladesh on the return flight. Likewise, west-bound flights will be told to halt in Delhi and Lucknow to refuel while returning.
“We don’t have refuelling problems for our Delhi flights, but we need to explore refuelling options for our flights to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur and Doha,” said NAC Spokesperson Ram Hari Sharma. “As our inbound flights are fully booked due to the Dashain rush, we cannot off-load passengers or cargo.” He said making stops at airports en route would lead to an additional financial burden of nearly $10,000 per flight.
Meanwhile, Indian media reported Indian carriers had made no changes to their schedule to Kathmandu. Air India, Jet Airways and IndiGo operate flights to Nepal. “We will do double uplift for the Kathmandu flight. It will restrict the allowed payload on the flight,” an IndiGo spokesperson told the Indian media.
The airline’s fuel requirement on the Delhi-Kathmandu route is 9 tonnes, while on the return flight, it is 7 tonnes.
“Jet Airways flights from Delhi and Mumbai may have reduced passenger and cargo carrying capacity to cater to additional fuel uplift. We are constantly monitoring the situation and guests are being duly informed,” a Jet Airways spokesperson tsaid.