More wings across the Himalaya are in the works. 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 Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) from January. Sichuan Airlines maintains an all-Airbus fleet of 93 aircraft.
Himalayan Airlines, a joint venture between Tibet Airlines of China and Nepali investors, has declared that it will be operating Kathmandu-Lhasa flights from February-March. The carrier plans to lease at least three Airbus A320 jets in the first year and expand its fleet to five aircraft in the second year. It aims to add the Kathmandu-Chengdu sector to its network immediately after starting its Lhasa service.
Presently, China Southern, Air China and China Eastern link Kathmandu and various cities in China with 35 flights weekly. China is the second largest source market after India for Nepal’s tourism.
Similarly, four Indian carriers—Air India, Jet Airways and low-cost carriers SpiceJet and IndiGo—currently serve Nepal.
The Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation has allowed greater participation of airlines from the northern neighbour by revising the bilateral air services agreement (ASA) on February 24 after travel demand outstripped supply.
The agreement permits airlines of both the countries to operate 56 flights per week with any type of aircraft. Under the old ASA, Chinese airlines were allowed to operate 14 flights per week. Moreover, under the revised pact, an additional seven flights per week will be added annually to make a total of 70 flights per week by 2016.
China Southern and China Eastern presently operate two daily flights while Air China flies daily. China Southern links Kathmandu and Guangzhou while China Eastern and Air China link Kathmandu with Kunming and Lhasa respectively.
“Sichuan Airlines applied to conduct flights between the two countries on Tuesday, and we will be reviewing its proposal before issuing operating authorization,” said Suresh Acharya, joint secretary at the ministry. “The rapid growth in Chinese arrivals is illustrated by the ASA between Nepal and China, and the growth momentum is likely to be quite robust in the near future.”
According to Acharya, China has been promoting Nepal as an outbound destination, and it’s a good sign for the country’s tourism. According to a report by Forbes entitled Nine Important Developments in China’s Outbound Tourism 2013, Nepal’s exotic location has made it popular among Chinese tourists. In August, Chinese Ambassador to Nepal Wu Chuntai had said that the number of Chinese tourists to Nepal would reach 250,000 within a couple of years with increased flights between the two countries and land connectivity through Rasuwa and trans-Himalayan roads.
Chinese arrivals to Nepal crossed the 100,000 mark last year reaching an all-time high of 113,173, largely due to improved air connectivity between Nepal and China, said the Tourism Ministry.
The figures released by the ministry showed that air arrivals jumped 55.3 percent to 62,616 and overland travellers surged 44.7 percent to 50,557. Arrivals from China in 2012 amounted to 71,861 persons. Around 93 percent of the Chinese tourists were first time visitors to Nepal.
Travel trade entrepreneurs said that the planned railway link to Nepal from China is expected to boost Chinese arrivals in a big way. Nepal has witnessed a constant growth in Chinese arrivals since June 2009. Although Nepal had been given the Approved Destination Status (ADS) by the northern neighbour in 2002, the number of Chinese tourists was nominal. In 2002, the China National Tourism Administration granted the ADS to Nepal, and in June the same year, Chinese citizens began visiting Nepal officially for the first time as tourists.
Sichuan Airlines has appointed Society Travel as its general sales agent in Nepal. “We are excited that Sichuan Airlines has chosen Kathmandu as its latest destination as Chinese travellers are our fastest growing source market, and we expect that the link will further stimulate growth,” said Rabi Chandra Singh, chairman of Society Travel.