Himalaya Airlines has set a condition to entrust commercial ground handling to start regular flights from Gautam Buddha International Airport in Bhairahawa.
Vijay Shrestha, Vice President of Himalaya Airlines, said that international flights could be started from Bhairahawa only if permission is given, including commercial ground handling. “We are ready to start regular flights from Gautam Buddha International Airport when the government gives us permission for ground handling,” he said.
He said the company is studying the possibility of flights from Bhairahawa as per the sustainable business plan. “Since the government has provided basic facilities, we are preparing to fly regularly from this airport,” he said.
According to the pre-announced plan, the government has not been able to bring business to Bhairahawa’s Gautam Budh International Airport, which was built with foreign loan investment. Currently, only Kuwait’s Jazeera Airways operates three flights a week from this airport. According to the Civil Aviation Authority, Abu Dhabi-based Wizz Air plans to start regular flights at the end of October 2022.
Although the airport, which is said to reduce the pressure of Kathmandu, is ready, the airline companies are not attracted to fly from Bhairahawa. It is seen that the Civil Aviation Authority itself has not been able to work for this. Airlines are ‘bargaining’ to get more facilities for flights from Bhairahawa. At the same time, the Himalaya also demanded ground-handling facilities.
The authority said that with the start of its service by Himalaya, the air service provider company would be added to the airport, and the fares applicable to some destinations would be reduced. Himalaya has not decided on the flight destination from GBIA.
Airlines are careful about ground handling services. It is like a monopoly of Nepal Airlines Corporation. Which the authority has not been able to improve nor intervene.
Vice President Shrestha said that although Himalaya got a self-ground handling permit two years ago, it has not been able to work. “Despite the government’s support to provide self-ground handling services, we could not start the process,” he said, “We have completed all the legal procedures. According to international practice, home base airlines can do self-ground handling. But even though we meet the legal standards, we cannot provide this service.’
He informed that currently, the company is paying crores of rupees to Nepal Airlines Corporation every month for ground handling services. The officials of the authority do not fail to tell the plan to advance the process of allowing private sector companies to provide ground handling services. But the officials who get political appointments change, and the monopoly in ground handling services does not go away.
Ground handling is a rich source of income for Nepal Airlines. Pradeep Adhikari, director general of the authority, said in a program that he would proceed with the action to control the risk as it is seen that the effect of the sloppiness in the management of the corporation is affecting the service delivery.
“It is in the law that any airline company can provide ground handling services for 35 flights a week,” he said.
Two years ago, the government permitted Himalaya for self-ground handling as it was a registered airline in the country. There was a protest because the authority interfered unnecessarily with the corporation’s source of income. It did not move the process forward.
16 years ago, there was a plan to give commercial ground handling to private companies.
Aviation expert Triratna Manandhar said that in 2006 after the ground handling service of Nepal Airlines at Tribhuvan International Airport became weak, the Civil Aviation Authority prepared to give it to an international airline company. But no officials could take a stand on the said decision and take it into execution.
According to him, at that time, there was a report that ground handling staff were consuming alcohol at night. Seeing the risk that the image of the country’s airports would be questioned if the corporation was negligent, the authority had discussed the plan to entrust the ground handling to a commercial company.
‘Because of this, it was proposed to invite an open tender to give this responsibility to an international airline company after 6 pm. But it could not be passed by the board,’ said expert Manandhar.
He believes that it is natural to entrust self-ground handling to any company. According to the Act, any airline company can undertake this responsibility. It is not necessary to give it to all the companies. If given to all, it will be difficult to cope with the airport’s capacity,’ he said.
But not only the authority but also the government is afraid to interfere in the ground handling service.