Chinese carrier Sichuan Airlines has been granted permission to operate flights to Nepal. It will be the fourth airline from the northern neighbour to serve Kathmandu when it begins flights in March.
Sichuan Airlines will be operating a daily service on the Chengdu-Lhasa- Kathmandu sector from its base in Chengdu. It possesses an all-Airbus fleet of 93 aircraft. “The Chinese carrier has been issued the operating authorization while the ministry is processing the documents of Colombo-based carrier Mihin Lanka,” said Pramod Nepal, under-secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation.
At present, Air China and China Eastern operate daily scheduled flights to Nepal, while China Southern operates double daily flights. China Southern links Kathmandu and Guangzhou while China Eastern and Air China link Kathmandu with Kunming and Lhasa respectively.
Government officials said that booming China’s outbound to Nepal appears to have largely encouraged Chinese carriers to link up with Nepal.
The country has been witnessing a constant growth in Chinese arrivals since June 2009. The number of Chinese visitors to Nepal crossed the 100,000 mark in 2013 reaching an all-time high of 113,173, largely due to improved air connectivity between the two countries. Official statistics show 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.
Chinese government officials have projected that the number of Chinese tourists to Nepal would reach 250,000 within a couple of years with the increased flight frequency between the two countries and land connectivity through Rasuwa and trans-Himalayan roads.
The rapid growth in Chinese arrivals is illustrated by the recently revised air services agreement (ASA) between
Nepal and China. The new ASA permits Chinese carriers to operate 56 flights weekly with any type of aircraft. Earlier, Chinese airlines were allowed to operate 14 flights weekly.
Meanwhile, the ministry said that the proposed revision of the ASA with Malaysia was likely to take place by the end of February.
As the air seat demand has outstripped the supply of Malaysia-based airlines, the Malaysian government has requested Nepal to revise the bilateral ASA that allows carriers to operate 21 flights per week. Malaysia has asked the Nepal government to raise the frequency to 42 flights per week.
As the allocated frequency for Malaysia-based airlines has been consumed, the ministry has permitted them to operate seven additional flights under a temporary operating permits scheme.
New entrant Malaysia-based Malindo Air will fly the Kathmandu -Kuala Lumpur route from February 6 with Boeing 737 aircraft. It will be the third carrier from Malaysia after Air Asia X and Malaysia Airlines.
Travel trade entrepreneurs said that the entry of Malindo into the Kathmandu -Kuala Lumpur sector would further intensify the airfare war. This route has emerged as one of the most lucrative sectors for airlines with a continuous surge in the number of Malaysia-bound migrant workers.