Uncertainty clouds Nepal-India meet on air routes

- Post Report, Kathmandu

Feb 8, 2017-Great deal of uncertainty remains over the proposed Nepal-India joint technical committee meeting on air routes which was scheduled for the first week of February, amid controversy over India’s proposal to allow overnight stay for in-flight security officer, popularly known as “air marshal”.  

Sources at the Tourism Ministry and the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) said India had kept the second round of meetings on its priority list. However, after the controversy sparked in Nepal, India has not responded to calls to fix a date for the meeting. The first meeting was held in New Delhi last December, in which India had proposed allowing overnight stay for in-flight security officer. The issue created too much of “unnecessary” controversy, with parliamentarians expressing suspicion about India’s intention, Caan officials said, adding India had only made the proposal and nothing had been finalised. “We are not exactly sure whether the delay is the fallout of the controversy.”

Caan had formed a nine-member technical team led by Sudhir Kumar Chaudhary, director of the Flight Operation Department, to hold the meeting. Caan had written to the Airport Authority of India twice on January 11 and 31 to fix the meeting date and venue. “However, we have not heard anything from the Indian side as of now,” said a high-level Caan official.

In the Delhi meeting, India had agreed to develop the Trans-Himalaya 2 air route and redefine the Kathmandu-Mahendranagar-Delhi (L626) route as a bi-directional route. The southern neighbour also granted bi-directional facility for the Lhasa-Kathmandu-Bharatpur-Bhairahawa-Delhi B345 route and the Kathmandu-Jaleshwor-Patna G335 route.

However, there were no substantial development with regard to three new cross-border air entry points in Janakpur, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj airspaces that Nepal had proposed with the view of connecting the upcoming international airports in Bhairahawa, Pokhara and Nijgadh.

India had pointed out some technical issues with the proposed three new cross-border airspaces that needed to be sorted out first. The two countries then decided to hold another round of discussions in the first week of February.

According to Caan officials, among the three proposed routes, the Nepalgunj airspace best suites Tribhuvan International Airport and proposed international airports in Bhairahawa, Pokhara and Nijgadh.

“Despite their (the Indian side’s) reservations over the airspace due to the presence of their defence base, they have hinted at opening some sections of the airspace over Nepalgunj,” said the Caan official. “Entry through Bhairahawa will not be feasible to land at Gautam Buddha Airport, so Nepalgunj is the best point for Nepal.”

The official said the air route talks are likely to be lengthy. However, if both the side agree, a safety assessment of the proposed routes would be carried out before their formal implementation.

Nepal has been pushing the agenda of expanding new cross-border airspaces for the past eight years. The agenda was endorsed during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Nepal in August 2014.

The prime ministers of the two countries had directed the authorities concerned 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.”

Published: 08-02-2017 08:49

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