CAAN team to visit Delhi to resume talksA technical delegation from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) is scheduled to visit the Indian capital of New Delhi on Thursday to continue the air routes talks started last June. According to CAAN officials, a five-member team led by Deepak Baral, director of air traffic management at CAAN, will hold discussions with officials of the Airport Authority of India (AAI) regarding two vital air routes: Nepalgunj in the midwest and Mahendranagar in the far west.
A technical delegation from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) is scheduled to visit the Indian capital of New Delhi on Thursday to continue the air routes talks started last June. According to CAAN officials, a five-member team led by Deepak Baral, director of air traffic management at CAAN, will hold discussions with officials of the Airport Authority of India (AAI) regarding two vital air routes: Nepalgunj in the midwest and Mahendranagar in the far west.
Last June, India agreed to open four new air entry points to Nepal in the eastern and western parts of the country to facilitate movement of international traffic, but two ‘vital entry points’ remained on hold due to technical issues. The four routes that India agreed to make bidirectional or two-way are Kathmandu-Biratnagar-Dhaka, Kathmandu-Janakpur-Kolkata and Kathmandu-Janakpur-Patna in the eastern part of Nepal, and Kathmandu-Mahendranagar-Delhi (L626) in the west.
With regard to Nepal’s request for entry from the L626 route in Mahendranagar for high-level flights (flights above 24,000 feet) and another entry point from Nepalgunj, India said it would make further examinations by September. “The Indian team is expected to inform the Nepali team about the possibility of opening these routes, their safety assessment and other issues that need to be sorted out jointly,” said a CAAN official. “However, we don’t think all the issues will be resolved in one or two meetings.”
Last June, the visiting Indian delegation did not discuss these two routes as they were purely a ‘defence issue’. The Indian side in the past expressed reservations over providing entry over Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj as a defence establishment is located in Gorakhpur where fighter jet exercises are held regularly. “We don’t think it will be easy to get these routes considering the early indication from the Indian side,” the official said.
The upcoming international airports in Bhairahawa and Pokhara will not be financially and technically feasible unless India allows aircraft to enter Nepal through the Nepalgunj or Mahendranagar airspaces. For example, if an international flight headed for Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa from western Nepal or New Delhi is not allowed to use the airspace over Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj or Mahendranagar, it will have to fly an extra 300 km to land at the airport, according to Tourism Ministry documents.
This means an aircraft coming from western Nepal will first have to fly to Simara before making a U-turn and landing at Bhairahawa. The plane will pass by Bhairahawa as it flies through Indian airspace to Simara, and then turn west after entering Nepali airspace. The roundabout route aircraft bound for Gautam Buddha International Airport will have to take will raise the operating costs of airlines and make the flight costly.
The international airport in Pokhara, which is expected to be completed by mid-2021, will face a similar problem if the new cross-border air routes do not come into operation soon. The ministry’s documents show that Pokhara-bound flights from western Nepal will have to fly an additional 185 km if the new cross-border air routes are not opened.
Cross-border airspace issues have been pending for the last five years. Nepal formally asked India to open the new cross-border air routes during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kathmandu in 2014. The issue of new air routes was on the agenda for the Indian premier’s visit to Nepal last May.
Nepal has been pushing the agenda of new routes for the last nine years, as there exists a single entry point in Simara for most of the airlines flying into the country. In contrast, there are seven exit points for aircraft flying out of Nepal: Bhairahawa and Mahendranagar in the west; and Simara, Biratnagar, Tumlingtar, Kakarbhitta and Janakpur in the east.
Besides Simara, two other entry points over Mechi and Tumlingtar (over Everest) have been specifically designated for flights coming from Bhutan and Lhasa, respectively. The Simara entry point is used by a majority of aircraft flying into Nepal and is, therefore, congested most of the time.