Three new international airlines are poised to serve Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) from January. Malaysia-based Malindo Air, Dhaka-based Regent Airways and Chengdu-based Sichuan Airlines have applied for operation authorization, said the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
All the three carriers plan to operate daily flights to TIA from their respective hubs. At present, TIA is served by 26 international airlines.
Ministry officials said that Malindo had applied to fly the Kathmandu-Kuala Lumpur route from January 18 with Boeing 737 aircraft. It will be the third carrier from Malaysia after Air Asia X and Malaysia Airlines.
The officials said that the entry of Malindo into the Kathmandu-Kuala Lumpur sector would further intensify the airfare war. This route has emerged as the one of the most lucrative sectors for airlines with a continuous surge in the number of Malaysia-bound migrant workers.
Currently, low-cost carrier Air Asia, which entered the Nepali market in June 2012, operates 11 weekly flights, while Malaysia Airlines that entered the Nepali market in September 2012 has been operating double daily flights on the sector.
Nepal’s national flag carrier Nepal Airlines currently serves the sector with a daily flight. According to TIA statistics, the growth of Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia has been exceptional. In the first six months of 2014, Malaysia Airlines flew 88,686 travellers, up 142.11 percent year on year, while Air Asia flew 105,888 passengers, up 86.46 percent.
As the existing air service agreement (ASA) between Nepal and Malaysia allows airlines to operate 21 flights per week, the government has allocated seven additional flights under the temporary operating permits scheme to cope with increased travel demand.
As the available frequency under the ASA has been almost used up, the pact is scheduled to be revised by the first week of January, ministry officials said. Malaysia has asked the Nepal government to raise the frequency to 42 flights per week.
Meanwhile, Dhaka-based Regent Airways, a wholly-owned subsidiary of business conglomerate Habib Group of Chittagong, plans to fly to Nepal from mid-January with Boeing 737 aircraft. Travel trade entrepreneurs said that Regent, which is more focused on the Dhaka-Kuala Lumpur route, has also targeted Malaysia-bound Nepali migrant workers.
Malaysia is the top recruiter of Nepali migrant workers. According to the Department of Foreign Employment, 156,770 migrant workers left for Malaysia in 2012-13 against 98,367 in 2011-12.
Regent will be the third carrier from Bangladesh to serve TIA after Biman Bangladesh and United Airways. Dhaka-based GMG Airlines stopped its Nepal services one and a half years ago.
Meanwhile, Sichuan Airlines has announced plans to operate a daily service on the Chengdu-Lhasa-Kathmandu sector which will make it the fourth Chinese carrier to link Nepal. The Chengdu-based airline said that it would start flying to TIA from January. Sichuan Airlines maintains an all-Airbus fleet of 93 aircraft.
Travel trade entrepreneurs said that Chinese arrivals to Nepal had been exceptional prompting airlines to increase their frequency. As per TIA stats, Air China, China Eastern and China Southern saw their passenger occupancy grow 20.15 percent to 99,088.
Seven airlines have suspended their Nepal operations in the last two years. Jet Lite withdrew its Nepal flights after its merger with Jet Airways.
Other operators GMG Airlines, BB Airways, Kingfisher Airlines, Bahrain Airlines, Gulf Air and RAK Airways have also pulled out of Nepal.