Govt to cap max fare for charter flights

- Sangam Prasain, Kathmandu

Sep 14, 2015-

The Tourism Ministry has initiated a plan to cap the maximum charge for domestic charter flights.  

Ministry officials said that the proposed policy, the first of its kind, would lower the fare to a more favourable level for travellers. Placing such a cap will prevent airlines from hiking spot fares. Presently, there is an upper limit on fares for scheduled domestic flights only.

A six-member panel led by Joint Secretary Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane has been formed to set the lowest and highest fares for airlines and helicopter services providing charter services.

The ministry said that the move was aimed at controlling the haphazard fares being charged by airlines on remote hill and mountain sectors, particularly when demand soars.

“We have started work on implementing a price regulation as we have received numerous complaints from travellers about excessive ticket prices imposed by charter operators,” said Pramod Nepal, assistant spokesperson of the ministry.

“We cannot regulate air fares, but can set an upper limit that is passenger-friendly,” he said, adding that charter service providers would not be able to hike spot prices after the policy is enforced.

Nepal added that the ceiling would be set based on the flight distance. The ministry has started collecting suggestions from industry stakeholders. “The process is likely to be completed by the end of October.”

There have been several instances of airlines jacking up charges for charter services when there is a large gap between demand and supply.

For instance, during rescue missions following the April 25 earthquake, most helicopter services were found to be charging $3,000 or more per flight hour against the normal rate of $1,400 to $1,700 based on passenger capacity, said a government official.  

Lawmakers have also been complaining about the arbitrary fares being charged by these airlines.

In November 2011, more than 3,000 tourists were stranded in Lukla due to bad weather which prevented aircraft from landing there for six consecutive days. The hapless tourists were forced to return to Kathmandu by helicopter by paying up to $500 each for the 30-minute flight.

Besides weather related issues that lead to fares being hiked several-fold, people in the Karnali region that is heavily dependent on air services due to poor road access are forced to travel by charter flights by paying hefty amounts.

Flights are often cancelled in the Karnali region due to weather or aircraft shortage, and travellers have no alternative but to wait in a queue for days to buy expensive tickets.

People in Karnali have been complaining that private airlines prefer to operate charter flights instead of scheduled services as they are more lucrative.

The state-owned national flag carrier does not fly on a majority of remote sectors due to its limited fleet. Last year, seven domestic helicopter companies flew 26,256 passengers. There were 1,841 charter flights conducted by fixed-wing operators.

Published: 14-09-2015 08:39

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