Nepal Airlines eyes Tokyo after Osaka debacleThe state-owned carrier plans to operate three weekly flights to the Japanese capital from January.
Nepal Airlines will be switching to Narita International Airport in Tokyo in a bid to keep its Japan service alive after a disastrous launch to Osaka's Kansai International Airport.
The national flag carrier hopes to start flying to the Japanese capital at the beginning of next year. But this time too it has no proper marketing plan which resulted in rows of empty seats on its Osaka flights.
Nepal Airlines began its Kathmandu-Osaka service on August 29 with an upbeat outlook, but disappointment set in with passenger occupancy remaining below 30 percent on all its flights in September.
Sulekh Mishra, deputy spokesperson for the state-owned airline, told the Post that they had signed a ground handling agreement for Narita, allowing them to launch flights to Tokyo which has a large Nepali community. The carrier plans to operate at least three weekly flights.
“We are preparing to operate flights to Narita by mid-January,” he said, adding that refueling and slot agreements at the airport had already been signed. Mishra said that the airline management had not reached any decision on the fate of its Osaka service.
At least three airline officials with whom the Post talked said that the Osaka flight would be discontinued from February for lack of aircraft. The national flag carrier is also preparing to launch flights to Guangzhou's Baiyun International Airport in China by February.
One official said foreign tourists would have a hard time after the Osaka service is stopped in February because they plan their trips and book flights five to six months in advance.
“Tourists from Japan are confused because the Osaka flight was opened for a temporary period from August till February; and even if a service to Tokyo has been planned, advance booking is not available yet. The airline has not learnt from its mistakes. Its marketing and promotional activities are still bad,” the official said.
Nepal Airlines offered one-way flights to Osaka at a throwaway price of Rs36,000, which was 25-30 percent cheaper than the going rate. But even that failed to attract passengers. Officials at that time had admitted that Nepal Airlines’ reputation for inefficiency, a decades-long hallmark of the flag carrier, was behind the lacklustre sales.
The start of the festive season in October had brought cheer to the airline with Nepalis rushing home for the holidays. The flights in October and November were booked over 80 percent, and some flights were even sold out. But demand slackened from the third week of November.
The official said that high occupancy from October to November did not offset the corporation's losses, and that it had not even reached the break-even point due to low pricing during the peak season.
One high-ranking official at the airline said its Osaka flights were currently 50 percent filled, and that it may come down gradually during the December off season.
“Beginning January, Japanese travellers will leave for the New Year holidays. Besides, many Japanese travel overseas between March and August, and they have booked their trips in advance. Nepal Airlines will not be able to cash in on the travel demand from Japan.”
The 2020 Summer Olympics are being held in Tokyo from July 24 to August 9, and the games could create travel demand from Nepal too.
Nepal Airlines made its Japan debut in 1994, flying to Osaka via Shanghai, China. In 2007, it was forced to suspend the route as it did not have enough planes.
The carrier expects the resumption of its Japan service to help improve its financial health. Nepal Airlines has found itself in the midst of a financial crunch as it has not been able to fly its newly acquired Airbus A330 jets on profitable long routes like Japan and Europe.