Domestic airlines have launched an air fare war in a bid to lure passengers as they have had to fly with rows of empty seats. Faced with shrinking occupancy on the Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa sectors, the carriers are offering discounts and promotional fare s in a desperate attempt to sell tickets.
The air fare war is likely to spread to other sectors soon, airline officials said. Buddha Air and Yeti Airlines are offering cut-price tickets to Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa for Rs4,400 and Rs3,300 respectively.
Likewise, Simrik Airlines is charging Rs3,100 for a seat on the Bhairahawa sector while Saurya Airlines, which plans to connect Nepalgunj from Monday, has announced a promotional air fare of Rs4,500.
The normal one-way fare s on the Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj sectors are Rs6,000 and Rs9,000 respectively.
“We have introduced lower fare s during this period as it is the off season,” said Roshan Regmi, marketing manager at Yeti Airlines. He added that occupancy rates on the Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa normally goes down during the summer.
Rupesh Joshi, senior executive manager at Buddha Air, said that occupancy had been okay till last week with the hordes that fled Kathmandu in the aftermath of the earthquake returning en masse. But the scenario is likely to be different from this week, he added.
“Airlines are struggling to get a decent seat occupancy now, and based on low demand, fare s are astonishingly low in Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa. Other sectors are likely to follow suit.”
According to Joshi, Buddha Air has been seeing an occupancy rate of 70 percent. Some airline officials said that domestic airline occupancy had dropped to below 60 percent from Sunday, and that the downturn was likely to continue as people in the Tarai region were busy with the paddy planting season in full swing. Airlines have already halved their flight frequencies due to a fall in business.
The occupancy scenario on almost all the tourist destinations is dismal. There used to be at least 20 flights daily on the Pokhara sector during this time of the year, but there are only five-six flights presently as the April 25 earthquake led to a mass departure of tourists from Nepal.
Likewise, there are two-three flights on the Lukla sector, one of the country’s busiest sectors. Lukla, the gateway to Everest, sees more than 70 flight daily during the peak season.
“Domestic flights would be filled with Indian travellers during the April-June period due to the Indian holidays, but travellers from the southern neighbour have become a rare sight these days,” said Prajwol Thapa, senior marketing manager of Simrik Airlines. “The coming days are likely to be more difficult for airlines . Fares have dropped on most destinations like Pokhara, Nepalgunj and Bhairahawa.”
The number of domestic air passengers dropped 6.24 percent to 1.032 million in the first nine months of 2014 due to expensive air fare s. Air passenger movement has been on a constant decline since 2012, marking a departure from the robust growth rates since 2008 when airlines were flying high due to competitive air fare s, road blockades, increased NGO/INGO staff movement after the peace process and a real estate boom.