Don’t stifle growth

  • Caan has to endorse budget to expand parking bays at domestic airports

Nov 21, 2017-A study conducted by the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (Caan), the aviation sector regulator, has found that domestic airports will not be able to accommodate additional aircraft for at least two years. This is expected to put the brakes on the fleet expansion plan of existing airline companies and prevent the opening of other such companies.

Lately, Nepal has seen a sharp growth in air passenger traffic due to bad road conditions. In the January-July period, domestic airline passenger traffic jumped 45.9 percent to 1.3 million, as passengers chose to fly rather than make a bone-jarring overland trip.

This has prompted airline companies to add more aircraft. In 2017 alone, the domestic aviation sector added at least a dozen aircraft. Domestic operators have ordered more aircraft for next year to cater to the growing number of air passengers. But this plan may not materialise as the Caan’s report says that there is no parking space in airports across the country.

Currently, around 46 aircraft are serving the domestic sector. A majority of these aircraft are using Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) as a base station. The problem is that TIA’s domestic parking bay can only house 17 aircraft. The space is already overextended as it is now accommodating 35 aircraft, which is against the standard norms. As a result, putting aircraft on hold in the air or on the ground is becoming a common practice, delaying flight movement and making air travel unreliable.

Lately, airline companies have been told to park their aircraft in airports outside Kathmandu to shift the load. But this is just a stopgap measure; it will neither allow existing airlines to add aircraft nor pave the way for new companies to commence commercial operation.

This indicates that an infrastructure hurdle could stifle growth of the domestic aviation sector. This will eventually erode the competitiveness of existing airline companies, which will prevent companies from passing on benefits, such as lower airfares, to customers. This calls for the need to immediately build new parking bays in airports across the country.

In this regard, the Caan board of directors must approve the proposed Rs43.6 billion capital budget. It has been over four months since the fiscal year began, but the aviation regulator’s budget has not been approved, as Tourism Minister Jitendra Narayan Dev, who has locked horns with Caan Director General Sanjiv Gautam, has been cancelling board meetings.

Minister Dev has made multiple attempts to replace the Caan chief for no particular reason. Interestingly, the Caan has never seen its director generals complete their tenure in office since its formation in 1998. This frequent turn around of top level staff at the Caan has hit the country’s aviation sector hard.

This practice of holding the aviation sector hostage to petty interests and making patronage appointments at the Caan must end. Abolition of these practices will ensure proper growth of the aviation sector and allow airline companies to prosper.

Published: 21-11-2017 07:33

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