A close look at the airlines of Nepal; Domestic and International

Airlines are the game changers for the Nepalese air transportation system. Especially in this event of turmoil due to the COVID pandemic, airlines have a big hand in helping to fight against COVID-19 through the transportation of required medical goods. Some international airlines of Nepal have conducted repatriation flights from foreign countries.

Airlines of Nepal operate air transport services to traveling passengers and cargo. More than ten airlines in Nepal have the Air Operator Certificate granted by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN). Nepal Airlines and Himalaya Airlines operate international flights while others offer domestic air services.

Following are the airlines of Nepal offering scheduled air services:

Nepal Airlines
Himalaya Airlines
Yeti Airlines
Buddha Air
Saurya Airlines
Shree Airlines
Guna Airlines
Sita Air
Summit Air
Tara Air

1. Nepal Airlines

Formerly known as Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation, Nepal Airlines (RA) is the national flag carrier of Nepal, founded on July 1, 1958, under the Nepal Airlines Corporation Act 2019, to provide air transportation service in the country. The government-owned airline has the most extensive domestic routes, serving virtually every remote district in Nepal. Operating the domestic network with a fleet of de Havilland Canada and DHC-Twin Otters, it also provides medium-haul services in Asia to Kuala Lumpur, Doha, Narita, Mumbai, Hong Kong, Dubai, Delhi, etc. The flagship airways of Nepal are yet to gain popularity despite having been established over six decades ago. 28-seater Douglas DC-3 Dakota was the first aircraft of Nepal Airlines, which was most people’s initial encounter with the modern world. Nepal Airlines owns the fleet of 2 Airbus A320-200 and 2 Airbus A330-200s acquired via Hi-Fly and AAR Corporation. These aircraft fly on international routes of Nepal Airlines, displaying the national flag as its livery. Nepal resorts in these widebodies, as they help Nepal make its presence felt at world airports.

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Nepal Airlines is the ground service provider in Tribhuvan International Airport, as it does ground handling of flights in Nepal except for Air India and Thai Airways. Nepal Airlines is the pride of the country, as it has the power to showcase the aviation capability of the country to the international aviation scene; it can play the lead role in aviation transformation. It also conducts repatriation flights to rescue Nepalese citizens under challenging situations.

 This is a crucial development for Nepal Airlines. Yet having the technological supremacy, RA has not been able to gain market share and operate in profit.

Before 1992, Nepal Airlines had a relatively good starting position. It could operate 38 domestic and ten international destinations at one time. It was the earner of foreign currency, employing hundreds of workforce, and its network connected to European destinations too. Liberalization of the domestic air market and corruption allegations added to the airline’s struggle in the 1990s and 2000s, downgrading its glorious position, and mismanagement surfaced in the airline’s internal operations.

  • Founded in- July 1, 1958
  • Domestic destinations- Bhojpur, Dang, Taplejung, Khanidanda, Rukum. Thamkharka, Phaplu, Simikot, Talcha, Bajura
  • International destinations- Kuala Lumpur, Mumbai, Bengaluru, Hong Kong, Doha, Bangkok, Dubai, Narita

2. Himalaya Airlines

Named after the mountain range, Himalaya Airlines (H9) is an international airline based in Nepal. It was established in August 2014 as Nepal-China Joint Venture. Himalaya is the symbol of high Nepalese mountains. The airline is dedicated to uplift the name of Nepal worldwide through its operational safety, on-time performance, and air service to the customers. It’s the only airline of Nepal connecting Saudi Arabia through Dammam flights and flying to various prominent Chinese cities.

It operates the fleet of 3 Airbus A320-214 and one Airbus A319-115. Himalaya Airlines is continuously making its efforts to establish itself as a leading airline in South Asia and developing high service standards followed by air network expansion. It has won several awards like ISO 9001:2015 or Quality Management System (QMS) certificate, Continuing Airworthiness Management Organization (CAMO), and Leading New International Airline in South Asia 2017.

  • International destinations served- Abu Dhabi, Beijing, Chongqing, Dammam, Dhaka, Doha, Dubai, Kuala Lumpur, Riyadh.

The future plan of H9 is to conduct flights to Lhasa and other important cities in South Asia.

3. Yeti Airlines

The renowned airline of Nepal, Yeti Airlines, stepped into the aviation industry in 1998. The pioneer carbon-neutral airline operates in the cities of Biratnagar, Pokhara, Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj, Janakpur, etc., with a fleet of 5 72-seater ATR 72-500s. Yeti Airlines debuted its commercial flight with one DHC 6-300 Otter and now is on the road to provide the largest network of flights all over Nepal. With a vision to the most preferred airline of Nepal, it strives to operate the safest, most efficient, and most customer-friendly flights with a positive contribution to society and the environment.

Yeti Airlines ATR-72 9N-AMN; Photo from Aviationphotos.info

It runs a frequent flyer program called Yet Airlines Sky Club. The parent company of Yeti Airlines, Yeti World, is the largest travel and tourism group of Nepal that offers unparalleled service to travelers from boutique hotels and lodges to airlines and expedition services.

4. Buddha Air

Nepal’s trendiest airline, Buddha Air, operates with the modern fleet of 2 Raytheon Beech 1900 D 19-seater aircraft, with ATR 42-300 and ATR 72-500 also joining the fleet. It operates mostly domestic flights along with seasonal services to Varanasi Airport. In 2020, it was the largest domestic airline in Nepal based on the number of passengers carried. Buddha Air stresses the safety factor, and though established on October 11, 1997, the airline has quickly grown to be popular. It is based in Jawalakhel, Lalitpur and serves the domestic destinations like Bhadrapur, Bharatpur, Bhairahawa, Birendranagar, Pokhara, Rajbiraj, Nepalgunj, Janakpur, Tumlingtar, Jitpur, Simara, Dhangadhi, etc.

Buddha Air - Aviation Nepal
Buddha Air – Aviation Nepal

It also conducts immensely popular sightseeing excursion-the Mountain Flight from Kathmandu to Mount Everest range and from Pokhara to Annapurna Massif.

5. Saurya Airlines

Founded in 2014, Saurya Airlines is a new carrier in the skies of Nepal. Its primary objective is to provide top-notch quality commercial air transportation service and be the leading domestic airline across the country. The frequent flyer program of Saurya Airlines is Saurya Saarathi.

Saurya Airlines CRJ-200 photo from Aviationphotos.info
  • Destinations served- Bhadrapur, Biratnagar, Dhangadhi, Nepalgunj, Siddharthanagar, Kathmandu (hub)
  • Fleet- 3 bombardier CRJLR/ER

6. Shree Airlines

Shree Airlines, the third-largest domestic airline in 2018, operates chartered helicopter and scheduled fixed-wing services and cargo charter services. Founded in 1999, it continues to offer unparalleled customer service and experience in the region.

9N-AMB Shree-Airlines CRJ-700; Photo from aviationphotos.info
  • Destinations served – Bhadrapur, Biratnagar, Dhangadhi, Nepalgunj, Janakpur, Bhairahawa, Kathmandu (Hub), and Rajbiraj
  • Fleet- 2 Bombardier CRJ200 ER, 2 Bombardier CRJ 700, 2 Bombardier Dash 8 Q400, 6 Mil Mi-17, and 2 Eurocopter AS 350 B3e.

7. Guna Airlines

Guna Airlines, founded initially in 2009, has revived, rebranded, and is ready to take over the Nepalese skies. After ceasing its operation in 2013, it is back with a different perspective and its unforgettable charm. FlyGuna is the newest name in Nepal, intending to establish its base in the high Himalayas. It is about to launch soon with Beechcraft 1900C and Jetstream J41 aircraft on domestic routes of Nepal.

8. Sita Air

Sita Air commenced its first commercial flight on February 6, 2003. Owning four Dornier DO-228 aircraft, Sita Air is widely known for regular STOL flights to the mountainous terrain of Nepal serving both local as well as international tourists.

sita-air-do-228
Sita Air Dornier DO-228 ‘9N-AHB’ short final to RWY 02, TIA(VNKT/KTM)
  • Destinations served- Kathmandu (Main base), Lukla, Tumlingtar, Pokhara, Nepalgunj, Surkhet, Simikot, Rara, Jumla, Bajura, Dolpa

9. Summit Air

Formerly known as Goma Air, Summit Air started its operations on February 24, 2014. It is the first Nepalese operator to introduce new Short Take-Off and Land Aircraft after a long span of years, i.e., 40 years gap. It derives its strength from state-of-art equipment, qualified flight crew, and engineering team. It offers STOL flight operations throughout Nepal with its four aircraft. It flies to the destinations like Lukla, Kanchanjunga, Jomsom, Dolpo, Rara, Simikot, Pokhara, Manthali, Phalpu, etc., which are mostly trekking and remote areas.

10. Tara Air

The subsidiary of Yeti Airlines, Tara Air, offers scheduled flight services and a charter operating fleet of STOL aircraft, serving the remote and mountainous airports and airstrips. Its fleet encompasses Dornier 228 and DHC-6. Often vulnerable to air incidents, it was ranked as one of the most unsafe airlines in 2019. It has the mission to help develop rural Nepal through its concentration of air services in hills and mountains from the Far East to the Far West.

TAra air dornier and twin otter

In fact, Nepal’s domestic flight network comprises some of the most rural and spectacular airstrips in the world. The approaches to these airstrips are complex, with many lying on mountainsides. Pilots often don’t fly through clouds in Nepal because clouds have a rock in them. However, since the introduction of the liberal sky policy in 1992 by the Nepal Government, the door for domestic airlines opened, with a handful of private companies entering into the domestic air market.

The airlines of Nepal should adapt to the new practices prevalent in the industry, urge the government to help them out in the deepest crisis, and they should accord top priority to flight safety and competitive air services to be at par with the world’s airline industry.

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