Domestic airlines resume services from todayOperations will be under flight rationing, but demand for air seats has grown despite Covid-19 worries because of the monsoon, carriers say.
Domestic flights are set to resume from Thursday after a two-month virus suspension, with airlines reporting that more than 80 percent of their allocated seats had been taken up.
Carriers said demand for air seats had grown despite Covid-19 worries because of the monsoon, which has damaged several highways linking the capital city.
The government grounded all domestic flights from midnight May 3 when infection rates went haywire.
On June 21, the Cabinet decided to lift the virus restrictions that had kept the country paralysed for nearly two months, following a drop in the caseload.
The government has allowed domestic airlines to resume operations after imposing flight rationing. They are permitted to operate half the number of flights they were conducting before Covid.
“We have sold more than 80 percent of the seats for Thursday,” said Sudarshan Bartaula, spokesperson for Yeti Airlines. The carrier has been allotted 15 flights daily which translates into 1,050 seats.
“Sales are encouraging, and we expect the momentum to continue for a week,” he said, adding that most of the passengers who had bought tickets were business travellers.
Buddha Air has been allocated 31 flights and it produces around 3,700 seats a day. According to the carrier, its flights on the Simara, Bharatpur, Surkhet and Tumlingtar routes are sold out. Sales have crossed 70 percent in other sectors, it said.
Like last year, airlines are unwilling to offer hefty discounts to attract passengers. The average airfare for a flight lasting more than 45 minutes is Rs5,000. It was Rs3,000 last year.
“Airlines will start slashing ticket prices once travel demand reduces,” said an airline official. The monsoon, which begins from June and last until September, is normally an off season for travel.
While Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines have received rations of 31 and 15 flights respectively, Shree Airlines has been allowed to operate 10 flights a day and Saurya Airlines three flights.
Sita Air, Tara Air and Summit Air have received permission for a combined eight flights daily to serve the Lukla, Phaplu, Dolpa and Simkot sectors.
“Allowing airlines to conduct 50 percent of the flights means the airport will be handling a maximum of five flights per hour,” said Raj Kumar Chettri, spokesperson for the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
He said that opening up flights fully would depend on the virus caseloads. “As there is still uncertainty, we are not sure when the domestic and international sectors will resume full operations.”
Nepal on Wednesday reported 1,889 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours, taking the nationwide infection tally to 638,805.
According to the Health Ministry, 1,003 people tested positive in a total of 4,381 antigen tests. The country reported 41 Covid-19-related fatalities on Wednesday.
According to Chettri, all airlines are required to follow the safety measures that the government has issued.
All domestic passengers must fill up a declaration form on their health history before the airline will issue a boarding pass, and airlines must inform every passenger as early as possible through a text message if there is a flight delay. Masks are compulsory for all passengers.
Airlines will provide masks and face shields to all passengers on each flight, ensure enhanced cleaning of aircraft with a focus on high contact areas like seats and seatbelts, and screen the temperatures of passengers twice before boarding.
Passengers must get to the airport one and a half hours before their flights.
Tribhuvan International Airport statistics show that domestic carriers lost 1.73 million passengers last year, which translates into a loss of more than Rs5 billion in passenger revenue, excluding losses in cargo revenue.
In 2020, domestic passenger traffic at Kathmandu’s airport fell to its lowest level since 2009. But airline officials said that domestic carriers had recovered close to 90 percent of pre-Covid passenger numbers.
According to the statistics, domestic airlines carried 1.45 million passengers in 2020, a 54.28 percent plunge from the 2019 figure.
Aircraft movements also dropped to a multi-year low of 38,610 takeoffs and landings, representing a steep 57.94 percent fall from the year before.