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Nepal Airlines postpones Osaka service due to ‘very poor’ bookings

- SANGAM PRASAIN, Kathmandu

Jun 7, 2019-

Nepal Airlines has postponed the re-launch of its Osaka service till August-end due to ‘very poor’ bookings during the low season, the state-owned carrier said Thursday. Flights to Kansai International Airport were slated to start on July 4.

Nepal Airlines opened bookings for the Osaka flight in mid-May at an introductory price of Rs45,000 one-way. It had planned to operate three weekly flights with widebody Airbus A330 jets. The 6-hour non-stop flight was scheduled for Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays.

“The Osaka flight has been postponed to August 29,” said Madan Kharel, executive chairman of Nepal Airlines. “Advance bookings were really poor and they are not improving. We cannot afford to fly a 274-seater wide body jet with very low occupancy,” he told the Post. “It’s a risk mitigating approach as we can incur heavy losses.”

The June-August or monsoon period is the off season for travelling in Nepal. “Nepal Airlines used to temporarily suspend its Osaka flights during this time of the year when it was operating its Japan service,” Kharel said, adding that management had not made a proper assessment of past practices. The national flag carrier is restarting a service that debuted a quarter century ago.

Kharel said they were optimistic about the September-November period which is Nepal’s busiest travel season when Nepalis rush home en masse to celebrate the Dashain and Tihar festivals with their families.

The festival exodus coincides with Nepal’s peak tourist season which accounts for nearly 30 percent of annual tourist arrivals in the country.

The carrier had planned to resume flights to Japan in September last year, but incomplete preparations delayed those plans, as it awaited approval from the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau to use Kansai International Airport. The Japan Civil Aviation Bureau granted flight authorisation to Nepal Airlines in mid-April.

Nepal Airlines also plans to operate flights to Narita International Airport and has already applied for a slot there. According to the carrier, if it gets permission to operate flights to both airports, it would be two weekly flights on each sector.

If it chooses to serve only one airport, it can operate three weekly flights.

On June 18 last year, Nepal and Japan revised the air service agreement, increasing the number of flights seven-fold from twice weekly to 14 weekly flights with any type of aircraft on a reciprocal basis.

As per the old air service agreement signed on February 17, 1993, Nepali airlines were permitted to operate 400 weekly seats or two weekly flights out of a single airport. Nepal Airlines launched its Japan service in 1994, flying to Osaka via Shanghai, China. In 2007, it was forced to suspend the route as it did not have enough planes.

The carrier expects the resumption of its Japan service to help improve its financial health. Nepal Airlines has found itself in the midst of money problems because it has not been able to fly its newly acquired Airbus A330 jets on profitable long routes like Japan and Europe.

The number of travellers from Nepal to Japan has been growing significantly in the last few years.

The country received 29,768 Japanese tourists last year, up 8.9 percent compared to the 2017 figure.

Japan will be an attractive destination for Nepalis, and the number of Nepalis there is likely to grow substantially in the coming years. The World Bank’s Migration and Development Brief 2019 said that Japan had identified nine priority countries as foreign labour sources on the heels of a new policy to admit 345,000 foreign workers over a period of five years starting April 2019.

The report said that Nepal and the Philippines signed a memorandum of cooperation with Japan on March 25, 2019 to supply manpower who will be admitted into 14 sectors facing severe labour shortages.

Every year, more than 10,000 Nepali students go to Japan to pursue higher studies and learn the Japanese language. Japan is the second most popular destination after the US among Nepali students going abroad to pursue higher studies, according to the ministry.

Published: 07-06-2019 08:51

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