While the construction of a regional international airport in Pokhara has been received with wide public enthusiasm, travel traders are worried that paragliding—the most popular adventure activity in the lake city—may be affected by coming airspace regulations.
It may be four years before the new airport comes online, but tourism entrepreneurs are already starting to worry about their investment. Pokhara’s landscape, climate and natural beauty make it a suitable spot for paragliding.
There is a possibility that the busiest flight path used by paragliders, the Sarangkot-Toripani-Dhikikhola route, will need to be discontinued to keep the way clear for aircraft flying in and out of the new regional international airport.
More than 90 paragliding flights are conducted on the Sarangkot-Toripani-Dhikikhola route daily. There is a lot of confusion among entrepreneurs about the potential displacement of growing paragliding activities. Some are in favour of shifting the activities to another area.
Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the Tourism Ministry, said no studies had yet been done about the potential displacement of paragliding activities in Pokhara. “The new airport has not started yet,” he said. “Its design is presently being done. After the design is completed, we will know which paragliding routes may be affected. However, we are trying our best to ensure that paragliding activities are left undisturbed.”
In September 2014, the Tourism Ministry had decided not to issue new operating permits to paragliding operators as the airport project was going to be implemented.
Meanwhile, the number of paragliding flights has reached a saturation point making the airspace over Pokhara congested and unsafe. New permits have been restricted in Sarangkot, Toripani and Mandredhunga, including areas covered by the flight path of aircraft using Pokhara airport and its control zone within a 10 nautical-mile radius.
Nepal Airsports Association Vice-President Shovit Baniya said they would search for other appropriate sites for paragliding in Pokhara if flying over Sarangkot and Toripani is not feasible.
Aerial sports began in Nepal in 1996 with Sunrise Balloon and Avia Club offering hot air ballooning and ultra-light flying respectively. The popularity of paragliding started to take off in 2007.
The popular season for this adventure sport among thrill seekers is September-November. However, operators said paragliding was becoming popular as an all-season activity among visitors.
A paragliding company handles 2,500-3,000 fliers annually, and 60 percent of them are foreign visitors. One company is allowed to operate six-seven flights per day depending on the weather.
Source: The Kathmandu Post