Passenger flow at Kathmandu airport down for the first time in four yearsBut the national flag carrier, Nepal Airlines, witnessed the strongest growth in passenger carriage, boosting its international market share to 17.77 percent.
International passenger numbers at Kathmandu's Tribhuvan International Airport dropped for the first time in four years in 2019, largely due to shortened operating hours for repairs, and the loss of five flights daily after Indian carrier Jet Airways went belly up.
Accordingto the figures released by the airport, 4.13 million passengers passed through the county’s sole international airport last year, 5.56 percent less than the 2018 figure. This means the airport saw 243,670 fewer travellers last year.
Aircraft movement dropped 4.30 percent year-on-year to 32,439 flights last year. An average of 11,338 international travellers passed through the airport while the Nepali skies saw 90 international flight movements daily.
Despite the drop in the number of travellers, national flag carrier Nepal Airlines witnessed the strongest growth in passenger carriage which helped to increase its international market share to 17.77 percent from 11 percent in the previous year.
The airport blamed the decline on the reduction in operating hours during two peak travel seasons last year for maintenance to the runway and taxiway.
“We were forced to slash the operating hours of the airport twice last year that may have affected the flight schedules of many airlines, eventually reducing passenger numbers,” said Raj Kumar Chettri, spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal. “Both times were Nepal’s peak travel season.”
From April to August, the runway was closed for renovation for 10 hours daily from 10 pm to 8 am the next day. The renovation of the 3,050-metre runway was done in the midst of the country’s peak tourism season.
The airport lost more than 60,000 international passengers during the April-June period as airlines had to cancel some flights due to the shortened operating hours.
Again, from September to December during the country’s main tourism season, the airport was closed for 7 hours daily—from 11:30 pm to 6:30 am the next day. As a result, the airport handled 83,659 fewer travellers than in 2018.
Another factor behind the drop in passenger traffic was the collapse of Indian carrier Jet Airways that used to operate three flights to Delhi and two to Mumbai daily, said Chettri. “Malaysia-based budget carrier Air Asia and Kuwait Wataniya Airways also suspended their flights to Nepal.”
Chettri said that because of the coronavirus scare, some Chinese airlines including Himalaya Airlines had announced a temporary flight suspension. “If the virus scare continues, February may see a significant drop in passenger numbers, mostly Chinese tourists, in Nepal.”
Passenger traffic at Nepal’s sole international airport has been growing since 2003, except for an 8 percent drop in 2015 when the country was struck by a severe earthquake.
A breakdown by airline shows that Nepal Airlines saw the highest passenger carriage in 2019. It flew 735,835 passengers, up 49.56 percent year-on-year.
The growth has been attributed to its increased capacity after it added two 274-seater wide body Airbus A330 jets into its fleet in mid-2018. The carrier's international passenger market share jumped 17.77 percent last year, from 11.32 percent in 2018. It resumed flights to Japan last year.
Doha-based Qatar Airways notched up the second position flying 462,039 passengers, up 15.70 percent from 2018.
Dubai-based low-cost carrier FlyDubai saw its passenger carriage drop 18.60 percent, but it remained among the top three. The airline flew 274,688 passengers in 2018.
India’s flag carrier Air India saw a 7.41 percent growth in passenger carriage to 255,058. Another low-cost carrier Air Arabia saw a negative 1.50 percent growth as it received 228,929 flyers. For the first time, Chinese carrier China Southern Airlines made it to the top five in terms of passenger carriage last year. The airline flew 200,003 passengers last year, up 26.07 percent year-on-year.
Nepali private carrier Himalaya Airlines saw its passenger numbers drop by 21.30 percent. It flew 176,392 passengers. Malaysian-based low-cost airline Malindo Air posted a 9.33 percent growth, flying 177,805 passengers last year.