The Indian government has approved three new “bidirectional” cross-border air routes at Janakpur, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj points.
The air routes are envisaged to serve the proposed Second Internat-ional Airport (SIA) in Bara, Nijgadh, and regional international airports in Bhairahawa and Pokhara.
Indian ambassador to Nepal Ranjit Rae on Thursday informed to a Nepali tourism entrepreneurs’ gathering in Kathmandu about the approval of the new routes. “The development will be informed to the Nepal government by a formal letter in the coming days,” he said, adding the shorter route would facilitate flight from Pokhara to Indian cities.
Pramod Nepal, under-secretary at the Tourism Ministry, who participated in the bilateral airspace discussions with India held recently, said the government has not received official confirmation yet. “After receiving the official letter from the Indian government, a negotiation will be held and an agreement will be signed to implement the new airspace.”
Although three are five exit points—Bhairahawa, Biratnagar, Kakkarbhitta, Janakpur and Mahendranagar—for international airlines, Simara is the only entry route for aircraft flying into Nepal. It is used by almost all airlines and has been suffering from air traffic congestion. Besides Simara, two other entry points, Kakkarbhitta and Nonim (East of Mt Everest), have been specially designated for planes coming from Bhutan and Lhasa, respectively. The airspace agenda was endorsed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Nepal visit in August last year.
A joint communiqué issued by the two sides at the end of Modi’s visit read: “The cross-border direct routes will facilitate flights between regional airports in Pokhara and Bhairahawa, and this will save time and money for air travelers and also improve air connectivity between India and Nepal.”
As international airlines connecting Kathmandu use the Simara route, aircraft have to make their descent and ascent in the Indian airspace during arrival and departure, respectively.
As per the bilateral air service agreement between Nepal and India, aircraft entering Nepal are allowed to maintain an elevation of 21,000ft from the Simara point. The provision is practical for making a descent to Kathmandu ’s Tribhuvan International Airport, but aircraft serving SIA will have to make a spiral descent, or circle the sky, to land at the airport from the given elevation.
Experts have said the Simara point will not be able to handle the increased air traffic even if one of the planned international airports were to come online.
The proposed entry and exit points in the eastern and western parts of Nepal would provide enough room for aircraft to ascend and descend in the Nepali airspace.
On September 10, 2009, Nepali and Indian aviation authorities revised the air service agreement (ASA) and signed a technical accord permitting Indian carriers to increase their weekly seat capacity to 30,000 from 6,000 over the countries’ airspace.
Nepali carriers have been permitted to fly to 21 destinations in India as per the reviewed ASA. However, the Nepali authorities did not realise it would require extra entry points. The importance of air routes was realised when the plans of Nepali carriers to expand cross-border flights were thwarted by the absence of adequate entry points.
Buddha Air had to abandon its plan for Pokhara-Bhairahawa-Lucknow flights due to the air route problem. It had been allowed to fly from Pokhara to Lucknow; but on the return flight, it had to enter Nepal through the Simara point which made the service unavailable.