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Int'l passenger traffic drops for first time in 13 years

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Apr 5, 2016-

International air passenger traffic through Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) dropped for the first time in 13 years as travellers stayed away due to the April earthquake last year and a jet fuel shortage caused by an Indian trade embargo.

According to TIA, the number of travellers passing through the country's sole international airport plunged 8.37 percent to 3.21 million in 2015. Likewise, aircraft movement fell 2.37 percent to 26,563 flights.

International airlines serving Nepal had significantly reduced their flight frequency due to low demand following the tremor.

Subsequently, in September, TIA received another hit after it was forced to stop refuelling services for foreign carriers when India choked off the fuel supply. During the crisis, Nepal Airlines airlifted fuel to keep domestic planes in the air.

The first casualty of the decision to stop refuelling services was China Southern Airlines which totally suspended its Nepal service, and it remains closed till today. Subsequently, many airlines had slashed their frequency to Nepal due to the cost factor of flying to Nepal.

As the situation has returned to normalcy, airline officials expect international air passenger traffic to gain momentum.

"The two back-to-back disasters affected airline frequency and occupancy last year. But with things becoming normal, we expect seat demand to continue," said Bharat Kumar Shrestha, chairman of the Airlines Operators' Committee-Nepal.

However, congestion at TIA remains an obstacle. "Every plane remains in the air far longer and expends far more fuel," he said, adding that limited parking bays had remained another problem for the growth of international airlines in Nepal.

Meanwhile, TIA statistics show that the earthquake and fuel shortage did not affect the movement of airlines from the Middle East much. 

Qatar Airways retained its position as the top carrier in terms of passenger carriage in 2015. Doha-based Qatar Airways flew 325,897 passengers last year, up 1.21 percent. Indian carrier Jet Airways slipped to the second spot, down 18.86 percent from the previous year. The carrier flew 311,666 passengers in 2015.

Air Arabia kept its third spot, posting a 8.58 percent passenger growth. It flew 292,033 passengers last year. No-frills carrier Fly Dubai posted a 8.69 percent growth with 267,438 passengers.

Nepal Airlines saw the strongest passenger growth after it added two new Airbus A320 aircraft to its fleet last year. The much-maligned national flag carrier flew 253,658 travellers, up 22.87 percent compared to the previous year. TIA statistics show that after the induction of the two new jets, Nepal Airlines received 47,000 more passengers.

India’s flag carrier Indian Airlines slipped to the sixth spot with the number of passengers dropping 5.14 percent to 224,168. Etihad Airways saw its passenger numbers drop 2.01 percent to 162,999.

Malaysian-based airlines Air Asia X and Malaysia Airlines saw a sharp decline in passenger numbers. Malaysia Airlines flew 160,426 passengers, down 5.32 percent.

Budget carrier Air Asia saw a sharp 27.85 percent drop in passenger numbers. It carried 153,964 passengers in 2015. Another Malaysian-based carrier Malindo Air flew 53,679 passengers since starting its Nepal service in February 2015.

Likewise, Oman Air showed a strong passenger growth of 76.41 percent during the review period. It flew 158,653 passengers last year.

Turkish Airlines, which started Istanbul-Kathmandu flights linking Nepal and Europe in September 2013, flew 101,330 passengers last year, down 15.89 percent. 

Thai Airways and Indian low-cost carrier IndiGo Airlines recorded negative passenger growths of 3.32 percent and 8.71 percent respectively. Hong Kong-based Dragon Air received 100,858 flyers, down 7.59 percent.

The biggest impact of the earthquake and aviation fuel shortage last year was seen on the Chinese carriers connecting Nepal.

China Southern Airlines saw a whopping 87.41 percent drop in passenger carriage to 12,001, while Air China recorded a fall of 25.52 percent to 60,414 last year.

Likewise, China Eastern Airlines saw its passenger numbers drop 19.01 percent to 52,941. Sichuan Air, which started flights to Nepal in April last year, carried 46,718 passengers.

TOP 10 CARRIERS

Airline                         2014                2015                Change (%)

Qatar Airways             321,975           325,897           1.21

Jet Airways                384,139           311,666           -18.86

Air Arabia                   268,953           292,033           8.58

Fly Dubai                    246,050           267,438           8.69

Nepal Airlines             206,430           253,658           22.87

Air India                     236,319           224,168           -5.14

Etihad Airways           166,355           162,999           -2.01

Malaysia Airlines        169,450           160,426           -5.32

Oman Air                    89,933             158,653           76.41

Air Asia X                   213,406           153,964           -27.85

(Source: TIA)

Published: 05-04-2016 08:32

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