After nearly 2 years of flight disruptions induced by the COVID-19 pandemic, airlines are beginning to resemble their pre-pandemic selves as the travel demand comes roaring back. With the recovery of air travel, international airlines have started submitting applications for commercial flights to Nepal.
SpiceJet’s comeback to Nepal
India’s no-frills carrier SpiceJet is poised to reactivate its operations to Kathmandu after 6 years of hiatus. The Gurgaon-headquartered airline SpiceJet seeks to operate seven weekly flights on the Delhi-Kathmandu route in the coming months. The Indian budget carrier SpiceJet has sought permission from the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) to operate flights from the national capital to the land-locked country on a daily basis.
If the proposal of SpiceJet is approved, the carrier will resume its Kathmandu flights for the first time in over 6 years. As a matter of fact, SpiceJet launched its scheduled services to the capital city of Nepal as its first international destination in 2010. Prior to its flight suspension in 2015, the carrier used to operate two daily flights between Kathmandu and Delhi.
CAAN’s information officer Gyanendra Bhul said that SpiceJet was preparing to conduct seven flights a week between two South Asian capitals. Zenith Travels, the official General Sales Agent (GSA) of SpiceJet for Nepal, said that the low-cost carrier will launch flights within a few months. In light of New Delhi being the major gateway for flights to Nepal and Kathmandu being a major hub, the Delhi-Kathmandu route comprises a lucrative sector for airlines.
Currently, Nepal Airlines, Air India, IndiGo, and Vistara are operating regular commercial flights in this sector. The increased travel options and competitiveness intensified by the addition of SpiceJet will expand consumer choice and likely drive down costs for passengers flying this route. The flight occupancy on the KTM-DEL route is usually high and reaches its full capacity during the festival and tourist seasons in Nepal.
Other airlines set to launch Nepal flights
Along with SpiceJet, several other airlines are set to launch commercial services to Nepal with the rise in travel demand. Carriers like Kuwait Airways, Cathay Pacific, Thai AirAsia, GoAir, Garuda Air, etc. have begun flight approval procedures to operate regular commercial flights to the country.
India’s ultra-low-cost airline GoAir has shown interest to tap into the Nepalese market. As per the source report, the Mumbai-based carrier has already obtained Air Operator’s Certificate (AOC) from CAAN and made necessary preparations to conduct commercial services in Nepal.
Likewise, Kuwait’s national airline i.e. Kuwait Airways has also started the procedure for flight operations in Nepal from the diplomatic level. CAAN’s spokesperson Mr. Bhul commented that the state-owned carrier had initiated diplomatic procedures to secure regulatory approval but the civil aviation regulator was yet to receive an official flight proposal. Kuwait Airways has made plans to operate four weekly flights from the Gulf country to Nepal.
At present, Jazeera Airways-Kuwait’s leading low-cost airline is the only carrier operating nonstop commercial flights between Kuwait and Kathmandu. Besides, it has also added a second route to Nepal with direct air services to Gautam Buddha International Airport-the aerial gateway to Lumbini. The additional services from Kuwait Airways may increase competition for passengers in the Kuwait-Nepal sector and benefit consumers with cheaper flights.
Another carrier that is on the way to obtaining regulatory flight approval from CAAN is Thai AirAsia, the joint venture of Malaysian low-cost carrier AirAsia and Thailand’s Asia Aviation. AirAsia suspended its regularly scheduled flights to Kathmandu in October 2018 citing the shortage of passengers. The Malaysian discount carrier, which had been conducting four weekly flights on average to Kathmandu, was embroiled in controversy for deferring payment of its dues to Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). The carrier was reported to have failed to settle airport service charge dues by the stipulated time. AirAsia launched Nepal flights in June 2012 and used to deploy 274-seat Airbus A330 aircraft for the service. The carrier stopped its flights after repeatedly delaying the pending payment of services fees related to landing, parking, navigation, rental, and others to TIA.
Awaiting a fresh start, AirAsia’s subsidiary Thai AirAsia is set to fly to Nepalese skies anytime soon. According to the source, Nepal’s civil aviation regulator has already granted permission to the carrier to operate flights with landing time at 12:30 midnight and takeoff at 1:30 am starting this October. ‘The GSA for Thai AirAsia is still in the process’, Mr. Bhul said, further adding that the registration process was ongoing in CAAN since the carrier’s representative would be the GSA itself.
Cathay Pacific to the Himalayan Nation
Cathay Dragon, the Hong Kong-based regional airline is the victim of the coronavirus pandemic as it was forced to shut down its operations on 21 October 2020 following the restructuring of Cathay Pacific Group. With the outbreak of the pandemic, air travel came to a standstill and Cathay Pacific, like several other airlines, battled to survive. With the termination of Cathay Dragon, a gap was created on the Hong Kong-Kathmandu route.
To fill the gap, Cathay Pacific-the flag carrier of Hong Kong is gearing up to launch a non-stop weekly flight between Kathmandu and Hong Kong starting October 1, 2022. The carrier is once again penetrating the Nepalese skies with Airbus A330-300 aircraft configured with a two-class cabin layout featuring business and economy class. From October 1, Nepali residents and visitors can fly directly from Tribhuvan International Airport, Kathmandu to Hong Kong and onwards to their favorite destinations in the US, Canada, Australia, Japan, and many more via Cathay Pacific.
Cathay customers will experience enhanced comfort onboard with an unsurpassed cabin environment, state-of-the-art inflight entertainment, and warm Asian hospitality on the carrier’s Kathmandu-Hong Kong route. Nepal is a promising market for Cathay Pacific Group and the launching of direct flights to the Himalayan Nation will expand its offerings encompassing superior flight products, easy and great connections, and excellent services to more customers. Cathay Pacific will operate two flights in a week and its official GSA is Amravati Travels Pvt. Ltd, Kathmandu. Currently, Singapore Airlines, Thai Lion, and Malaysia Airlines offer regularly scheduled flights between Kathmandu and Hong Kong. The introduction of Cathay flights may likely drop the fares with an increase in competition.
Wizz Air and Garuda Air
The resurgent travel demand in Nepal has attracted many foreign airlines to offer air services to the country. Wizz Air, the Hungarian discount airline, is all set to operate three weekly flights from Abu Dhabi to Bhairahawa from October. For this, the ultra-low-cost airline is planning to deploy Airbus A321neo aircraft. The 190-seater A321neo of Wizz Air will be the first aircraft of its type to operate flights in Nepal. Airbus A321neo is the lengthened fuselage variant of the A320 family of narrow-body airliners produced by Airbus, powered by CFM LEAP-1A or P&W1100G-JM geared turbofan engines which together bring per-seat fuel improvements of 20%.
Besides up to 20% fuel savings, the aircraft ensures operational enhancement, high performance, a longer flight range of up to 5 hours, and a reduction of carbon footprint by 50%. Wizz Air A321neo is the world’s densest aircraft with modern yet comfortable seating in a dense configuration, all Economy Class. Altogether, the European low-cost airline has taken the delivery of 50 A321neo aircraft with 234 units in order until 2027. It will operate similar jets for flights to Nepal commencing from October.
Another airline poised to begin flights in Nepal is Indonesia’s Garuda Air. The carrier has already received its Air Operator’s Certificate a year ago and approval to conduct four flights in a week. Garuda Air will inaugurate its air service to Kathmandu in October using Boeing 777 aircraft. The American long-range wide-body airliner has a seating capacity of 328 passengers. Society Travel International, (a part of RRR Group of Companies) is the appointed GSA for both Wizz Airlines and Garuda Air.
24 hour-open Tribhuvan International Airport
Nepal’s first international airport, Tribhuvan International Airport is currently operational 24 hours a day following the pickup of air traffic. On May 29, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal opened TIA’s international terminal 24 hours a day to deal with the soaring air traffic. ‘As the airport remains operational 24/7, there’s no difficulty in granting flight permissions to new international airlines’, says TIA’s General Manager Premnath Thakur.
The present context of GBIA Airport
The alternate and backup international airport for Nepal, Gautam Buddha International Airport (GBIA) currently handles flight movements of only one carrier i.e. Jazeera Airways. The new sleek airport will witness the arrival of Wizz Air next month.
Jazeera Airways inaugurated cargo services from GBIA Airport on August 27 ferrying export items of Himalex Traders. Since then, no cargo has been exported from the recently-built airport. Despite the regular export of Nepalese products to international markets from Tribhuvan International Airport, the lack of interest among private business and entrepreneurs in Bhairahawa have led to lack of cargo activity in Bhairahawa Airport.