Nepal’s second international airport, Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA), has marked a significant milestone with the commencement of international cargo services. On August 27, Kuwait-based Jazeera Airways launched cargo service for the first time from Gautam Buddha International Airport. After more than three months of coming into full-fledged operation, GBIA kickstarted international freight operations five days ago.
International cargo flight by Jazeera Airways
On August 27, Jazeera Airways inaugurated an international cargo flight from Bhairahawa Airport, carrying two tons of felt items on behalf of Himalex Traders. Rajendra Baniya, the sales and marketing manager for Jazeera’s Cargo GSA Topline Worldwide Cargo Services Pvt Ltd, said that the Nepal-based freight forwarder Rising Start Cargo Private Ltd. used Gautam Buddha International Airport for the first time to transport export items of Himalex Traders through Jazeera Airways. The inaugural cargo flight bound for France departed Bhairahawa Airport with a transit point at Kuwait and arrived at Lyon-Saint Exupery Airport.
Rising Star Pvt Ltd’s general manager, Jivan Panta, said that two tons of woolen felted products were transported from Kathmandu to Bhairahawa by truck. Although it was a risky proposition, they wanted to convey that it was possible to ferry cargo from GBIA. After customs clearance, Jazeera Airways transported the handicraft product from GBIA Airport to Kuwait, which was eventually delivered to France’s Lyon Airport via Pegasus Airlines. Jazeera has a codeshare partnership with Turkish low-cost carrier Pegasus Airlines to expand its network to destinations in Europe and beyond.
The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has waived off several airport charges to woo international carriers to operate flights at Gautam Buddha Airport. Taking advantage of the subsidy, Jazeera Airways has offered concessional rates to entrepreneurs who seek to pursue cargo import-export activities from GBIA Airport. The airline has facilitated cargo operators to provide cargo services at a discounted rate from Bhairahawa, which will be more cost-effective than from Kathmandu.
Jazeera Airways is gearing up to upscale its flight capacity in Bhairahawa by operating flights daily from mid-September. The Kuwaiti carrier has been operating three weekly flights (Mondays, Tuesdays, and Fridays) since it spread its wings to GBIA. Starting September 16, Jazeera is set to offer daily flights using Airbus A320 aircraft, creating an opportunity for industrialists to start cargo service from GBIA at a subsidized rate.
Cargo terminal at GBIA Airport
The newly-built Gautam Buddha International Airport has a 24-hour-open modern terminal that can accommodate close to 1 million passengers every year. The airport also has a cargo terminal with an investment of over Rs. 900 million. The construction of the cargo terminal has reached the final stage and is set to start the cargo operation soon. For its current purpose, the airport uses a temporary building that can handle nearly 400-500 tons of cargo daily.
The inauguration of cargo services in Gautam Buddha International Airport means the opening of a new door for industrialists and businessmen in Bhairahawa to export agricultural and local products to international markets. The commencement of freight operations has provided opportunities across the region for entrepreneurs to reap the benefits of exporting agro- and industrial products to foreign countries.
As an aviation gateway to the tourism destination of Lumbini, GBIA Airport has thrust the once-sleepy market town in Terai onto the international stage and motivated businesspeople to ferry their local goods or even products from Indian markets to the international arena without regulatory hindrances.
Airlines operating at GBIA Airport
The Hungarian ultra-low-cost carrier Wizz Airways is set to operate scheduled flights from October connecting Abu Dhabi in the United Arab Emirates and Bhairahawa in Nepal. The budget carrier will deploy the Airbus A321neo model aircraft, the first aircraft type to penetrate the Nepalese skies, to operate three weekly flights on the Abu Dhabi-Bhairahawa route.
Currently, Kuwaiti airline Jazeera Airways is the only carrier operating flights at GBIA since mid-May and will bolster its flight frequency to a daily basis from mid-September.
Other airlines, esp. those of destination countries of migrant workers, have shown interest in operating flights from GBIA since Bhairahawa is ideally suited to become a hub for the labor market. Nepalese carriers Himalaya Airlines and Nepal Airlines and international carriers like Qatar Airways, Fly Dubai, and Gulf Air are keen to operate commercial flights from GBIA Airport.
Twenty-six airlines, including three Nepalese carriers, offer international air services from Kathmandu Airport. Until the coronavirus hit the Nepalese aviation industry, over 30 carriers used to operate international flights from Tribhuvan International Airport.