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Airline traffic soars as strikes cripple highways

- Sangam Prasain, Kathmandu
According to airline officials, the flight frequency on the Kathmandu-Biratnagar-Kathmandu sector has been more than doubled to 15 flights daily

Aug 27, 2015-Domestic airlines have seen an unprecedented rise in traveller movement in the last two weeks due to a flurry of strikes launched in various parts of the Tarai in protest against the proposed federal set-up that have shut down surface transportation.

Although airlines have added extra flights to a few Tarai destinations to cater to increased demand, airline officials reported that a shortage of seats persisted as travellers were taking to the skies in hordes following the closure of the highways.

The surge in demand has mainly been observed on the Biratnagar, Janakpur and Bhadrapur sectors. Likewise, Nepalgunj, Bhairahawa and Dhangadhi flights are overbooked daily.

“Due to the strikes in several part of the country, demand for seats has exceeded the number available,” said Bhim Raj Rai, airport service manager of Yeti Airlines. “To cater to the rising demand, we have added a few extra flights to a number of destinations.”

Domestic airlines that have been reeling under mounting losses as demand waned in the aftermath of the April 25 earthquake are pleased with the dramatic rise in the demand. They said that the rise in demand could compensate for the losses incurred in the aftermath of the April earthquake to some extent.   

However, airlines are still struggling to get passengers on tourist sectors including remote sectors.

Rai said although the strikes had been a boon for airlines for a short span of time, it had also become a worrying factor as they have happened on the eve of Nepal’s peak tourist season.

“We had been expecting that the tourism industry would recover to some extent this autumn (September-November), but such activities have dampened the industry’s hopes.”

According to airline officials, the flight frequency on the Kathmandu-Biratnagar-Kathmandu sector has been more than doubled to 15 flights daily. Buddha Air has added two extra flights on the sector to make a total of six flights daily, while Yeti Airlines has added one flight to its five daily flights. Saurya Airlines has added two flights to its four daily flights on the sector.

Besides, Buddha has added extra flights on the Bhadrapur and Janakpur sectors.  

Rupesh Joshi, senior executive of Buddha Air, said that besides Biratnagar, they had added flights for the people’s convenience. According to him, demand has increased mainly for inbound seats. “We will be adding more flights based on demand.”

As per the Post-Disaster Needs Assessment report, domestic airlines reported revenue losses of about Rs400 million during the month following the earthquake.

Domestic air passenger movement continued to shrink for three straight years, dropping 6 percent in 2014, as high fares, bad weather conditions and a slowed economy dented demand, according to the data of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA).

Domestic airlines were forced to cancel 42 percent or 18,328 flights last year due to poor weather and congestion at TIA.

TIA’s statistics showed that domestic carriers received 92,046 less flyers last year. These airlines carried 1.45 million passengers in 2014 against 1.54 million the year before. The figure includes the 26,256 passengers flown by seven domestic helicopter companies.

Airline officials termed the steady decline a worrying scenario as airline seat demand could dive further by at least 20 percent this year due to the earthquake that prompted a mass departure of tourists and an economic slump which has led Nepali travellers to opt for ground transportation.

Published: 27-08-2015 09:49

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