Nepal-India air routes plan fails to take off

  • aviation setback
- Post Report, Kathmandu

Feb 12, 2018-

Four-and-a-half years have already passed since Nepal and India decided to hold talks on opening new air routes, but developments so far have not been fruitful, highlighting flaws in Nepal’s aviation diplomacy. 

Nepal has proposed three new cross-border air entry points over Janakpur, Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj airspaces with the view of connecting the upcoming international airports in Bhairahawa, Pokhara and Nijgadh.

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

Subsequently, the prime ministers of the two countries had directed the authorities concerned to meet within six months to resolve the issue. 

Following which, in 2016, Nepal and India agreed to develop the Trans-Himalaya 2 air route and redefine the Kathmandu-Mahendranagar-Delhi (L626) route as a bi-directional or two-way 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. These routes are yet to be implemented.

However, there was no substantial development with regard to three new cross-border air entry points. 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.

“We have not been able to conduct even a single meeting with the Indian authority since 2016,” said a senior official of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan). “In such scenario, how can the airspace issue be sorted out?” 

The official, however, said that the Airport Authority of India that deals with the airspace issue has informed “verbally” that a meeting is expected to be held in Kolkata soon. “However, the Indian side has not given us the exact date.” He said that if the first meeting is held, it would at least make the next meetings and negotiation process easier. 

Nepal’s second international airport in Bhairahawa, the birthplace of Buddha, is expected to come into operation by 2019. Another international airport in Pokhara is expected to come into operation by mid-2021. To make these airports feasible both financially and technically, they would require aircraft’s entry over Nepalgunj, Bhairahawa or Mahendranagar airspaces. 

Although there are five exit points-Bhairahawa, Biratnagar, Kakkarbhitta, Janakpur and Mahendranagar-for international airlines, Simara is the only entry route for aircraft flying into Nepal. It is used by almost all airlines and has been suffering from air traffic congestion. 

Besides Simara, two other entry points, Kakkarbhitta and Nonim (East of Mt Everest), have been specially designated for planes coming from Bhutan and Lhasa, respectively.

Caan’s senior officials said that the Indian side has reservations over the airspace of Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj due to the presence of their defence base or air force in Gorakhpur in the Indian state of Uttar Pradesh. It is spread over a large area and has regular fighter jets exercises. 

However, they have hinted at opening some sections of the airspace over Nepalgunj. Nepal has been pushing the agenda of expanding new cross-border airspaces for the past nine years.

Published: 12-02-2018 08:40

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