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Buddha Air to set course for the wild sky yonder

  • aiming high
- Post Report, Kathmandu

Feb 24, 2018-

After buzzing the skies above Nepal for 20 years, Buddha Air has planned to spread its wings and set course for exotic foreign destinations. The carrier has announced powering itself from one-hour to three-hour or beyond flights, and entering the long-haul international market. 

Buddha has set its sights on lucrative Asian destinations like Guangzhou, Bangkok, Dhaka and most major Indian cities in the first phase. It has planned to connect Japan, South Korea, China and Europe in the second phase. 

“By March 2020, we will be flying to key Indian cities from Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) after acquiring two narrow-body jets,” said Managing Director Birendra Bahadur Basnet of Buddha Air. 

“By August 2021, we will add two more jets and begin operations from the upcoming international airport in Pokhara.” The construction of the modern airport in Pokhara is expected to be completed by July 2021. 

“By 2022, we will have six jets. At this point, we will be able to connect Kathmandu with Moscow, Seoul and Japan directly,” said Basnet. “These are lucrative markets from where we can bring high-end tourists.” 

The carrier plans to add two jets each year. By 2031, it plans to expand its jet fleet to 20 aircraft.

Buddha has adopted a separate strategy and wants to impact the tourism market instead of the ever-increasing Nepali labour market. Basnet said that they were not going after the labour market and wanted to create ‘Buddha’s effect’ in Nepal’s hospitality industry.

All international airlines in Nepal are expanding their share of the labour traffic, which currently accounts for 65 percent of the total international passenger traffic. But Buddha wants to stand apart from its peers. 

The carrier’s own study has revealed that the completion of the international airport in Pokhara will enable the lake city to host more than 2.5 million tourists annually by 2025. 

“We believe this figure will result in the creation of big employment opportunities,” said Basnet. “Tourism will never be completely sustainable as every industry has impacts, but it can work towards becoming more sustainable. For Nepal, especially, we all know that tourism is the only industry that can create ‘equitable wealth’ for the people.” 

Buddha began commercial flights to Paro, Bhutan with an 18-seater Beechcraft in August 2010, becoming the first foreign airline to serve Bhutan. It is investing almost Rs10 billion in its new project. 

“The carrier has accumulated a great amount of experience flying on international routes. Going overseas in a full-fledged manner means that it has made its decision after assessing risk and cost factors,” said Tri Ratna Manandhar, former director general of the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan). “If Buddha can replicate its domestic success internationally, I think there’s a lot of opportunity there.” 

The international sector is a high risk area, but profit margins are still reasonably healthy so there’s a bit of a breathing room, Manandhar said.

As a rehearsal before launching full-fledged international operations, Buddha plans to serve the Kathmandu-Kolkata sector from September 1. It will be operating three weekly flights using a 72-seater ATR aircraft to Kolkata, the capital of India’s West Bengal state and the second largest city in India. The carrier has targeted bringing 600 tourists from Kolkata monthly. 

“If we succeed in bringing 600 tourists each month from Kolkata, we are almost near our target of beginning operations with jet aircraft,” said Basnet. One of Buddha’s ambitious plans is flying to all major Indian cities as it has set its sights on the growing middle class Indian market.

India is the second fastest growing outbound market after China, and the United Nations World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) has projected that the number of outbound Indian travellers will grow by 50 million by 2020. 

Buddha has been holding talks with two global aviation giants, Boeing and Airbus, to procure jets.  

Last October, Airbus officials made a presentation on the cost effective and fuel efficient A320 during their visit to Nepal. 

Recently, Boeing officials made a presentation on the Boeing 737 MAX 8 narrow-body aircraft series. 

This is the fourth generation of the Boeing 737, succeeding the Boeing 737 Next Generation. “We have been convinced by the presentations of both companies. We are yet to decide which model is suitable for us,” said Basnet. 

Published: 24-02-2018 08:32

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