National

Nepal dragging its feet on opening new air routes

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Oct 20, 2016-Nepal’s proposal to review the airspace agreement with India to provide more cross-border entry and exit points for airlines, which was gathering dust for years, had seen chances of take-off after it was endorsed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal in August 2014. But Nepal, the proposer, has failed to send a delegation to New Delhi to attend a scheduled meeting on opening new air routes, in another indication of foot-dragging over the issue.

In its proposal, the Nepal government has requested India to provide three more air entry points in Janakpur, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj. The proposal to review the airspace agreement was made with an aim to provide more cross-border entry and exit points for airlines that would be serving the international airports nearing completion in Bhairahawa and Pokhara and the proposed Second International Airport (SIA) in Nijgadh.

The Ministry of Culture Tourism and Civil Aviation, which has the lead responsibility in conducting the negotiations, abruptly postponed the meeting on Wednesday, one day before it was scheduled to be held, citing lack of preparation. It had not even informed the Indian side until Wednesday afternoon that it would not be coming.

Agreeing to Nepal’s request to arrange the meeting for the third or fourth week of October to expedite the long-pending issue, the Indian Embassy on September 14 informed the ministry that the bilateral negotiation had been scheduled for October 20.

Subsequently, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs informed the Indian side on October 5 that the Nepali delegation

was ready and would be

arriving in the Indian capital as scheduled. The Indian

Civil Aviation Ministry had then formed a negotiation team led by its Joint Secretary Arun Kumar.

“The negotiation has been postponed without any reason. It’s sheer irresponsibility on the part of the ministry,” said officials from the ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan). “A review of the airspace agenda is the need of Nepal. The ministry had more than a week to prepare for the negotiation, but it has been negligent.”

Caan had even prepared a technical team to take part in the negotiation, and had been waiting for a call from its line ministry.

Tourism Joint Secretary Suresh Acharya, who has been tasked to lead the bilateral negotiation, said that they did not have enough time to make preparations after the Dashain holidays as the issue had to be approved by the Cabinet. “However, we will be proposing another date--the third or fourth week of November,” he said.

Nepal has been pushing the agenda of expanding new cross-border airspaces for the last seven years. However, the plan has not been moving ahead due to poor aviation diplomacy. The planned negotiation has been postponed several times before.

The airspace agenda was endorsed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal in August 2014.

The prime ministers of the two countries have directed the concerned authorities to meet within six months to resolve the issue.

A joint communiqué issued by the two sides at the end of the visit said, “The cross-border direct routes will facilitate flights between regional airports in Pokhara and Bhairahawa, and this will save time and money for air travellers and also improve air connectivity between India and Nepal.”

The importance of air routes was realised when the plans of Nepali carriers to expand cross-border flights were thwarted by the absence of adequate entry points.

Published: 20-10-2016 08:34

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