Flights to Nepal limited by airport capacity

A Turkish Airlines flight to Istanbul on 3 September was the first scheduled departure in nearly six months from Kathmandu.

Ten international airlines have restarted scheduled flights to Kathmandu after nearly six months, and although there is high passenger demand, the flight capacity is limited because of the government’s threshold of only 800 passengers allowed disembark per day.

The first week of flights saw airlines operating with limited frequency and restricted number of passengers per flight. For the moment, only Nepali nationals, diplomats and employees of aid agencies and their families are allowed in.

All passengers need to have a RT PCR negative test done 72 hours before departure, and that requirement has now been extended to passengers also on charter flights from the Gulf bringing Nepali workers home. Those with PCR negative reports are allowed to go home for a 7-day self-quarantine.

Other foreigners, including from India, are not allowed. And neither are there any Indian carriers among the 10 that will be flying in and out of Kathmandu during September. This means many Nepalis who are stuck in India, and Indians in Nepal, will have to wait longer to reach home.

For outgoing passengers, there are no restrictions leaving Nepal, but they will have to check about the rules in the destination countries. They also need a PCR negative report before flying out.

International operators say they can easily add flights to meet the suppressed demand of travellers to and from Kathmandu, but they are bound by the daily quota. They also complain about continued confusion and chaos at the airport.

For example, when four flights from Chengdu, Riyadh, Doha and Kuala Lumpur landed within two hours of each other on Sunday morning there was bedlam at Kathmandu airport. Even though airlines follow health protocols strictly on board, once passengers land in Kathmandu they are crammed into ramp buses, which are not disinfected properly, and although there are marks on the floor for physical separation in the arrival concourse, not many were seen to be following it.

Lack of signage, contradictory advice from airport staff, and confusion about queues were some of the major complaints of arriving passengers. Airline executives say besides the daily quota of passengers, it may also be important to space out the flights throughout the day sop they do not arrive together.

There are about 100 flights for the rest of the month, and CAAN has released a timetable for the arrival and departure dates and times. (See table below).

International airlines are taking very strict measures for passengers flying out from Kathmandu airport checking, on board, in transit and in flights to onward destinations.

Turkish Airlines, which marked the seventh  anniversary of its first flight between Istanbul and Kathmandu last week,  restarted its weekly flights last Thursdays with most of its passengers transiting on to Europe and North America.

Turkish has resumed flights to most of its destinations, but with limited frequency. It has one of the strictest on board hygiene protocols among airlines flying to Kathmandu, and this includes disinfection by special teams after every flight of all contact points on aircraft including tray tables, seats, touch screens, windows, side panels, overhead lockers. All planes also undergo two-stage disinfection upon arrival in Istanbul with fogging before the next flight.

Turkish has also produced a special safety video, and has RT PCR tests on arrival in Istanbul. All aircraft also use HEPA (High-Efficiency Particulate Air) filters of the kind used in surgeries that remove most all particles up to 0.3 microns in the air. The air in the cabins are also renewed every three minutes.

Other international airlines also have strict health protocols especially on  narrow-body aircraft on long and medium-haul flights to and from Kathmandu at full capacity.

Of the international airlines that have resumed flights, Qatar has the highest number with 12 flights in September using Boeing 787 Dreamliners. Air Arabia and Fly Dubai have 6 flights each for the rest of the month. Cathay Dragon from Hong Kong, China Southern from Guangzhou, Air China from Chengdu all use widebody Airbus 330 for their weekly flights. Korean Airlines from Incheon also has four Friday flights in September with Boeing 777.

Nepal’s two international airlines Nepal Airlines and Himalaya Airlines are mostly operating repatriation flights for Nepali workers from the Gulf and Malaysia. Although Nepali Airlines also has weekly flights to Hong Kong and two to Tokyo Narita this month.

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