International airlines, local travel agents continue to disregard CAAN repatriation flight rule
On June 6, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) issued an urgent notice to all international airlines operating to and from Nepal. It read: “It has come to our notice that some international airlines have commenced booking for commercial passenger flights to and from Nepal. As you know, Nepal has suspended all commercial passenger flights other than repatriation flights. Permission to operate passenger repatriation flights requires processing through diplomatic channel. So, kindly do not initiate any bookings for schedule or passenger charter flights originating or with destination to Nepal.”
Upon release of this notice, one of the CAAN officials stated to Aviation Nepal News that “chartered flights have been cancelled due to complaints that ticketing and travel companies are compelling passengers to buy expensive tickets.” A couple of days later, an investigation committee was launched to investigate these allegations.
However, to the surprise of many observers, charter flights initiated by local travel agents continued unabated last week. In fact, Serene Travels organized 3 charters to Tokyo on Nepal Airlines (June 7,9,11) and Megabyte Travel organized a charter to the USA on Turkish Airlines (June 12). Laser Travel organized charter flights to Hong Kong on Nepal Airlines on June 14 (see twitter advert below).
On Friday, President Travels announced publicly 4 additional charter flights to the USA on Qatar Airlines (June 16,17,18, 20), and Able Travel started booking charter flights to South Korea on Korean Airlines (June 16,20 – See screen capture).
Aren’t these exactly the kinds of flights CAAN was trying to avoid by issuing their notice?
The only repatriation flight out of Kathmandu organized by an Embassy, was the flight to Canberra on Nepal Airlines on June 8.
Even though Serene Travel indicated in a press release that the Japanese embassy was “involved” in its three flights to Tokyo, Nepal Airlines contradicted that statement on its official page. They indicated that the flights to Japan were NOT ORGANIZED by the Japanese Embassy (see screen shot below).
When contacted by AviationNepal News, Megabyte travel indicated that the CAAN notice did not apply to Travel Agencies but only to commercial airlines and therefore they could book the charter flight on Turkish Airlines. They also stated that they can book the flight anytime seeing the passengers demand. It was confirmed that this flight received a “non-opposition” letter from the US Embassy, but this does not amount to a diplomatic request or “involvement” by the embassy. Other local and international travel agencies tried to organize charter flights but were refused permission because their requests did not come from a diplomatic channel.
This approach has led to advantaging some Travel Agencies over others, barring legitimate local agencies from generating revenue for their otherwise dead business. It has also prevented any sort of oversight of the fares and rules imposed on the interested passengers.
Yet, there is a simple solution the Nepalese government could consider:
1) Select two west-bound and two east-bound international airlines as the exclusive rescue partners. For example, Qatar and Turkish, and Korean and Singapore. All these airlines have restarted their international schedule and provide good onward connections. Give exclusivity to Nepal and Himalaya Airlines to bring back priority Nepal citizens stranded overseas on charter flights paid for by the government.
2) Authorize one flight per week for each of these four international airlines while the airport remains closed. Allow only resident Nepalese, Diplomats, and business visa holders inbound. Allow anyone to travel out. Submit the inbound passengers to the same protocol as the official repatriation flights.
3) Sell the tickets on the official airline sites. This will allow competitive prices since multiple airlines will be offering the same destinations. It will also allow all IATA certified local travel agent the opportunity to issue the tickets in Nepal removing all favoritism and scams.
Airlines representatives have indicated to Aviation News that they are prepared to implement this solution. They just need CAAN to be willing to listen to their proposals.