High in the sky

  • As NAC is poised to enter a new era, it should clean up its tarnished image

Jul 27, 2018-

The national flag carrier is not just a business venture; it is a source of national pride. Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) welcomed its second long-range Airbus A330 jet on Thursday and expanded its international fleet to five aircraft. It plans to add two Airbus A320neo (new engine option) passenger jets and sell its ageing Boeing 757 by 2019. By then, NAC will have the youngest fleet in the country which will boost its competitive power. This is a good sign for the tourism industry when the country has announced Visit Nepal Year 2020 with the aim of bringing 2 million foreign tourists.

NAC hopes to rejuvenate itself after taking delivery of the two wide-body jets. The arrival of the A330 aircraft has put the national flag carrier in the company of long-haul airlines. Decades ago, a lot of prestige was attached to travelling in the then Royal Nepal Airlines Corporation (RNAC). The national carrier, during its heyday, used to fly to Colombo, Dhaka, Frankfurt, Karachi, London, Osaka, Shanghai, Singapore and Vienna, besides five Indian cities—Bangalore, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai and Patna. Currently, it connects Kathmandu with Doha, Kuala Lumpur, Hong Kong, Bangkok, Dubai and three Indian cities—Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru.

The venerable airline went into freefall due to deteriorating performance amid recurring cases of corruption in the 1990s and early 2000s. The reputation and confidence of the carrier built over several decades was severely dented. At one point, its flight schedules weren’t guaranteed; and its market share plunged to less than 6 percent. The process of bringing new Airbus aircraft was not easy either. The procurement process for the wide-body jets actually began nearly a decade ago, and was marked by corruption charges, parliamentary hearings and imprisonment of NAC’s top brass.

The corporation now plans to reclaim its lost glory. The arrival of the two wide-body jets has been described as a‘game-changing event’, allowing NAC to compete with other international players on long-haul routes in Europe, Japan and beyond. If the new planes are not utilised prudently and commercially, however, the national flag carrier can be pushed into bankruptcy, experts have warned. NAC is neck deep in loans. It owes Rs38 billion to various institutions, and has to pay at least Rs3.5 billion in interest annually. It has been planning to take another loan of Rs12 billion to procure two A320 jets soon.

According to airline officials, NAC will have to increase its passenger market share to at least 30 percent to survive. The corporation should totally change its traditional working style and adopt new technology and marketing strategy. It especially has to get rid of the corruption that is so entrenched in the organisation. Also, the airline cannot afford to compromise its standards. Regular delays have ruined the image of NAC, and passengers prefer to fly on private airlines despite their higher fares. This will need to change. Tardiness, apathy and incompetence can no longer be tolerated in the new NAC. In the end, high-level officials and political actors need to understand that the flag carrier is not just a business venture; it is a matter of national pride. The shameful state of NAC cannot be allowed to continue.

Published: 27-07-2018 07:59

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