Unlimited flights to Nepal from 1 October
Nepal’s Civil Aviation Authority (CAAN) announced on Sunday that it will allow international carriers to resume an unlimited number of flights from 1 October.
Since some flights were allowed to resume on 1 September, there was a cap of only 1,600 passengers allowed to land in Kathmandu every day because of the need to avoid over-crowding, and for physical separation at the arrival and departure terminals.
The decision to lift restrictions appears to follow a rise in demand from Nepali families coming home for the Dasain-Tihar-Chhat festivals, as well bookings from tourists who want to take advantage of the reopening of trekking and mountaineering after 17 October.
“We have been able to cope with the present volume of passengers, and although it will be challenging, we are confident that we can handle the greater numbers at Kathmandu airport,” said Devendra KC of Tribhuvan International Airport.
Normally 30 airlines used to fly 53 international flights daily from Kathmandu airport to 32 destinations in the region and beyond. Since 1 September 14 airlines had been allowed to operate only 14 flights a day.
“We want to send the message that Nepal is returning to normal,” CAAN’s Rajan Pokhrel said.
However, the move comes even as Kathmandu Valley has been seeing a surge with 802 new Covid-19 cases on Sunday, and three deaths. The number of cases in Nepal has crossed 73,000 with 477 deaths due to the novel coronavirus.
In addition, there is still confusion about the conditions in which foreign nationals will be allowed from 17 October. Travel trade executives say the two-week quarantine requirement on arrival is impractical if the visitors arrive with RT PCR negative reports, and they also want visa on arrival to resume.
“We have been asking the government to reduce the hotel quarantine time for visitors to three days,” said Achyut Guragain of the Nepal Association of Tour and Travel Agents (NATTA). “After all, returning Nepalis are allowed to go home immediately if they have PCR negative reports.”
There is still no word on whether flights to and from India will also be allowed from 1 October. Tens of thousands of Nepali students, families and patients who had gone to India for treatment have been stuck there for six months. Thai International has also not announced a resumption of its daily flights to Bangkok.
Turkish Airlines has already opened online reservations for three flights a week Istanbul-Kathmandu from 3 October, while Korean Air, Dragon Air, Etihad Airways, Fly Dubai, Oman Air and Malaysia Airlines are going back to their normal frequency from 1 October. Qatar Airways has already started twice daily flights Doha-Kathmandu.
Nepal’s domestic airlines have also reported high suppressed demand from travellers since they resumed flights last week.
Meanwhile, CAAN has been embroiled in a controversy after it allowed Himalaya Airlines ‘self-ground handling’ facilities at Kathmandu airport. At present Nepal Airlines does most ground-handling including check-in, baggage and ramp transport. Air India and Thai International are the only two carriers allowed to have their own ground services.
Himalaya Airlines is a joint venture between Yeti Airlines and China’s Tibet Airlines, and CAAN’s announcement was denounced by a Nepal Airlines union as being “anti-national”.
After political pressure, Civil Aviation and Tourism Minister Yogesh Bhattarai on Sunday summoned CAAN’s Pokhrel and instructed him not to implement the decision. In addition, he also ordered the cancellation of the special privilege given to Air India and Thai.