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Nepal-India talks on air routes next week

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Jun 7, 2018-

A technical delegation from the Airports Authority of India (AAI) is scheduled to arrive in Nepal on June 14 to discuss cross-border airspace issues that have been pending for the last five years, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan) officials said. 

The Indian team will be led by Anil Kumar Dutta, member of Air Navigation Services and board member of the AAI. The two sides will discuss three key cross-border routes that Nepal has sought from India: Janakpur in the eastern, Nepalgunj in the mid-western and Mahendranagar in the far western regions.

Nepal asked India to formally open the new cross-border air routes during Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to Kathmandu in 2014. The proposed bi-directional or incoming and outgoing air routes will facilitate the operation of international flights from Bhairahawa, Pokhara and Nijgadh airports. “We don’t know about the mandate that the Indian delegation has been entrusted with by its government, but we are prepared to sign a memorandum of understanding (MoU) if the discussions yield a positive outcome,” said a high-level Caan official. “If the MoU is signed during this meeting, it will open the door for both sides to conduct a safety assessment of the proposed routes soon.”

After a safety assessment has been completed by the technical teams of both sides, a report needs to be published in an aeronautical information publication (AIP) before the new air paths can become operational.

The issue of new air routes was on the agenda of the visit of the Indian premier to Nepal on May 11.

In August 2014, a joint communiqué issued by the two countries 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 directed the concerned authorities to meet within the next six months to resolve the issue. Based on this instruction, Nepal and India agreed to make the Kathmandu-Mahendranagar-Delhi (L626) route bi-directional or two-way in 2016. But its safety assessment is yet to done.

Senior Caan officials said that the Indian side had expressed reservations about opening the airspace over Bhairahawa and Nepalgunj due to the presence of Indian defence bases in Gorakhpur. The defence base is spread over huge swathes of land where fighter jet exercises are conducted regularly. However, they have hinted at the possibility of opening some sections of the airspace over Nepalgunj.

Nepal has been pushing the agenda of expanding cross-border air routes for the last nine years, as there is only a single entry point in Simara for most of the airlines flying to the country. In contrast, there are seven exit points for aircraft flying out of Nepal: Bhairahawa and Mahendranagar in the west, and Simara, Biratnagar, Tumlingtar, Kakarbhitta and Janakpur in the east.

Besides Simara, two other entry points over Mechi and Tumlingtar (Nonim which is in the east of Everest) have been specifically designated for planes coming from Bhutan and Lhasa respectively. The Simara entry point is used by a majority of aircraft flying to Nepal and is, therefore, congested most of the time.

The two upcoming international airports in Bhairahawa and Pokhara will not be financially and technically feasible if India does not allow aircraft to enter Nepal from one of the proposed cross-border air routes in Bhairahawa, Nepalgunj or Mahendranagar.

Meanwhile, Buddha Air has applied at Caan to operate Nepalgunj-Delhi flights in anticipation that the L626 route will be made bi-directional.

Published: 07-06-2018 12:09

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