Nepal allows limited international flights

All photos; BIKRAM RAI

On 1 September, the first day that the Nepal government reopened regular flights after nearly six months, there were no scheduled flights – all four were chartered repatriation flights.

Nepal Airlines operated flights from Doha and Kuwait, and the private Himalaya Airlines flew in stranded Nepali workers from Doha, with one more cargo flight from Kunming. Doha, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia are three countries to and from which regular flights are not yet allowed because of the difficulty for Nepali workers to get PCR tests before boarding.

However, airlines are expected to start operating regular flights from countries where PCR tests are easily available this week with limited frequency, destinations and passengers. A Nepal Airlines Airbus will leave on its first regular flight since March to Tokyo Narita just after midnight on 1 September.

Nepal Airlines will be operating two more flights to and from Narita this month, as well as four to Kuala Lumpur and Dubai. Altogether there will be 14 flights during September to and from Kuala Lumpur by Nepal Airlines, Himalaya, Malindo and Malaysia Airlines.

Most other airlines are flying once a week with limited passenger loads to comply with the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) limit on the number of arriving passengers. Earlier, CAAN had set a limit of 500 passengers a day, but has now increased it to 800, which includes chartered flights.

International Airlines operating limited scheduled flights are Turkish Airlines, Qatar Airways, Etihad, Oman Air, Fly Dubai, Malaysia Airlines, Dragon Air, China Southern and Air China. Permission has not yet been given for flights from Indian cities because of the continuing rise in the number of Covid-19 cases there, airlines sources said.

So far, the government is allowing only Nepalis, diplomats, aid agency officials and their families to fly to Kathmandu on these flights. They will all need RT PCR negative reports done only 72 hours before their flights, and they will have to stay for seven days in home isolation (for Nepalis) and hotel quarantine (for foreigners).

An exception has been made for a 13-member Bahraini mountaineering expedition to Manaslu that includes three Britons – the only tourists allowed into Nepal so far this season.

There were 262 Nepali workers arriving on two flights from Doha on Tuesday, and they were taken province-wise from the airport to their designated holding centres by the Nepal Army to await results of their PCR tests. If negative, they will be allowed to go home and self-quarantine for 14 days.

The restriction on passenger capacity and frequency means that the cost of tickets to and from many destinations are much higher than pre-lockdown fares.

All photos: BIKRAM RAI