Nepal seeks Chinese help for gainful aircraft operationTourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari has requested Chinese to help Nepal to operate the aircraft recently received from China more profitably.
Tourism Minister Rabindra Adhikari has requested Chinese to help Nepal to operate the aircraft recently received from China more profitably.
China provided one MA60 and one Y12e worth Rs2.94 billion as gifts. Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) subsequently bought another MA60 and three more Y12e with a soft loan of Rs3.72 billion provided by China’s EXIM Bank. The corporation took delivery of the last batch of two aircraft three years after they were manufactured.
The manufacturer completed assembling the 17-seater Y12e for Nepal in early 2015. They were sitting in the factory hangar since then after NAC refused to bring them due to their poor performance in the Nepali skies and lack of pilots.
The aircraft were procured with the objective of serving remote mountain airfields. However, in the last three years, NAC has not flown the aircraft to any mountain airfield or even conducted test flights to Lukla and other mountain airports where demand has increased notably.
The two Y12e planes were brought in February. The shiny new planes have remained parked at the airport since then due to lack of flying crews. On Tuesday, the aircraft were formally handed over to the Nepal government.
“If these Chinese-made planes perform well in Nepal, it will further strengthen relations between Nepal and China,” said Adhikari, speaking at the aircraft handover ceremony. “I hope the aircraft manufacturer will also help NAC by providing spare parts and maintenance facilities promptly which is one of the concerns raised by NAC. The planes have arrived, but there are no senior pilots to fly them,” he said. “How can the plane fly without pilots? It’s a challenge. We need to develop quality manpower.”
NAC rushed to hire pilots only after the planes reached Nepal. The national flag carrier has produced only three captains to fly the Y12e aircraft in the last three years. Of the three captains, only one is currently available. It has nearly a dozen co-pilots.
These management lapses have resulted in a huge financial burden to NAC, officials said. The 55th annual report of the Office of the Auditor General released recently said that the corporation had been operating the Chinese-made MA60 aircraft incurring losses of Rs66.7 million annually, while its losses from the Y12e amount to Rs39.4 million annually.
“The corporation does not seem to have made a solid working plan to operate these aircraft at a profit,” the report said. Although the corporation has targeted flying 9,168 flights in the domestic sector annually, it has been operating 4,538 flights only. The corporation’s expenditure has increased which has resulted in less income, the report said.
NAC Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar admitted the failure to fully utilize the planes. “Yes, in terms of reliability, we have achieved only 68 percent, and in terms of punctuality we have achieved below 34 percent in domestic services,” he said on Tuesday.
“Without help from China, we cannot improve the performance of the Chinese aircraft. Let’s sit together and resolve the issues to ensure that all six aircraft fly smoothly in the Nepali skies,” said Kansakar.
In November 2012, NAC signed a commercial agreement with AVIC, a Chinese government undertaking, to procure six aircraft. One 56-seater MA60 and one 17-seater Y12e arrived in Kathmandu in April and November 2014 respectively under this deal.
NAC put off taking delivery of the rest of the planes for two years following problems, including load restrictions, with the two that had joined its fleet in the first lot. In February 2017, the corporation received another MA60 and Y-12e aircraft after being assured by the manufacturer China Aviation Industry Corporation (AVIC) that it would provide every help necessary to keep them flying in the Nepali skies.