In new pact, Nepal and China agree to increase weekly flights to 98The agreement is significant boost for Nepal, which, five years ago, began with only 14 weekly flights to Chinese cities
Nepal and China signed a revised bilateral air services agreement on Friday, which will allow 98 weekly flights between the two countries on a reciprocal basis, an increase from the existing 70 flights per week.
Of the increased 28 flights, Chinese carriers will have to operate 21 flights in and out of the two upcoming international airports—Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa and Pokhara International Airport, according to Tourism Ministry officials who signed the agreement in Beijing.
The new deal means Nepal has allowed the addition of seven new flights to the severely congested Tribhuvan International Airport in Kathmandu.
China had requested Nepal to revise the air service pact to allow more flights from the country due to an increase in demand and the consumption of allocated frequency of existing flights to Nepal.
The existing pact between the two countries allows flights to seven destinations in China: Beijing, Shanghai, Lhasa, Guangzhou, Kunming, Chengdu and Xi’an. In the revised pact, the Chinese side has agreed to designate eight new destinations for Nepali carriers, according to Pramod Nepal, an under-secretary at the Tourism Ministry.
“Nepali carriers will be allowed to operate flights to any new destinations within China at the Nepali airlines’ discretion,” he said.
Currently, five Chinese carriers—Air China, China Southern, China Eastern, Sichuan Airlines and Tibet Airlines—operate flights to Nepal.
However, no Nepali carriers currently fly to China. The national flag carrier used to operate a service to the Japanese city of Osaka, via Shanghai, until 2008 under fifth freedom rights. In 2015, Nepal Airlines applied for landing permission at Guangzhou Baiyun International Airport, but its application is still pending.
“As we raised this issue with the Chinese side, the Chinese side has agreed to expedite the process of issuing operating authorisations to Nepal Airlines and Himalayan Airlines as per their applications for flights between Kathmandu and Guangzhou and Beijing respectively,” Nepal told the Post.
Vijay Shrestha, vice-president of Administration at Himalayan Airlines, said they are currently planning to operate Kathmandu-Lhasa and Kathmandu-Beijing routes by October this year.
“We have applied for flight permissions and are waiting for slot approval,” said Shrestha, adding that the move is aimed at bringing more Chinese tourists for the Visit Nepal 2020 campaign. Nepal wants to bring in at least 500,000 Chinese tourists in 2020.
A senior official at the Tourism Ministry said Chinese officials agreed, in principle, to allow Nepali carriers to land at Ngari Gunsa Airport in Tibet, which is the fourth highest airport in the world and the nearest airport to Kailash and Manasarovar, two holy sites for Hindus and Buddhists.
Nepal has been asking to allow its airlines to conduct Mansarovar tours or aerial circumnavigation of Mansarovar in China by helicopter or fixed-wing aircraft for a long time. The proposed aerial tour has been expected to attract a large number of pilgrims who have money but no time or inclination to trek across the treacherous route.
“Chinese officials have assured us that once the Ngari Gunsa Airport is transformed into an international airport, they would allow us to operate its flights there,” said Nepal.
Arrivals from China saw the strongest growth of 46.8 percent to 153,602 individuals in 2018, largely due to increased flight frequencies between the two countries.
Gautam Buddha International Airport, which will serve as a gateway to the birthplace of Lord Buddha, has been scheduled to come into operation by early 2020. Pokhara International Airport is expected to complete by July 2021.
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