NAC focussed on utilising wide-body jets: Kharel
Madan Kharel is the Executive Chairman of Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC). Kharel and has team have a challenging responsibility to improve the situation of the national flag carrier. He says that efforts have been underway to maximise the utilisation of the airline’s two wide-body jets.
Kharel talked to Ballav Dahal of The Rising Nepal Monday about the airline’s plans to expand both of its international and domestic services. Excerpts:
The NAC management has been criticised for failing to utilise its wide-body jets properly. What is your take on this?
Since I took up my responsibility as the Executive Chairman in September last year, we have focussed on maximising the utilisation of our two wide-body jets. Although the airline received the first of the two Airbus A330-200 aircraft on June 28 and the second one on July 26 last year, no effort had been made to operate flights by using them. As soon as I assumed the office, I took the initiative to apply for resuming NAC flights to Osaka of Japan. Initially, we had planned to resume flights to the Kansai International Airport based in Osaka from February this year. We thought that it would be easier for us to fly to Tokyo when we receive the permission for Osaka. We were quite enthusiastic about that. But things could not move ahead as expected. Anyway, the Japan Civil Aviation Bureau has permitted us to operate flights to Osaka from coming July 4. Since the months of June and July are mostly an off season for tourism, we have rescheduled our plan for August 29. We are also in the process of applying for flying to Narita International Airport in Tokyo. It may take at least six months for us to receive the permission for a new sector.
At present, we are flying the wide-body jets for nine hours a day. With these jets, we are operating a daily flight to New Delhi, Doha and Dubai. On average, the seat occupancy of our flights is more than 86 per cent. Using our narrow-body planes, we are operating scheduled flights to Hong Kong, Bangkok, Mumbai, Bangalore and Kuala Lumpur. We are doing well on all the sectors.
Why didn’t NAC initiate the process to fly to Tokyo in the beginning?
One of the reasons for it was that the exchange of notes revising the schedule of the Air Service Agreement (ASA) signed between Nepal and Japan was revised in January this year. It had expired on June 18 last year. We could apply for this only after January. But we did not move the process ahead because we were waiting for the permission for flying to Osaka. The Kathmandu-Tokyo-Kathmandu sector could be more viable from commercial point of view because around 60,000 Nepalis have been living in and around Tokyo. If we find the Kathmand-Tokyo-Kathmandu sector more profitable than that of Osaka, we will focus on the former.
The country is going to organise the Visit Nepal Year 2020 (VNY) next year. The national flag carrier has an important role to play in making this campaign a success. How will NAC help it?
There is no any doubt about our role as we are an important stakeholder of the upcoming mega event. We are working out plans to start flights to Riyadh of Saudi Arabia. As a large number of Nepali migrant workers have been working in Saudi Arabia, we have thought that it could be an important destination from commercial point of view.
South Korea is another potential destination for us. A team of the Civil Aviation Authority of Korea is coming to Nepal soon in order to audit our safety measures. We are hopeful that we will be permitted to launch our regular flights to South Korea as well. Thousands of Nepali migrant workers have been working there. Similarly, more than 35,000 South Korean travellers visit Nepal annually. Once we start our services, the number of Korean tourists visiting Nepal will definitely go up significantly.
We have already applied for starting flights to Guangzhou, the busiest trading centre of the People’s Republic of China. We are going to receive the permission to operate flights to Guangzhou within a week or so.
What is NAC doing for improving domestic flights?
Currently, our four Twin Otters are in operation. Two more aircraft can be brought into operation after carrying out necessary maintenance and repairs. One of the obstacles to the expansion of our domestic services is that we do not have pilots in adequate number. It is true that we failed to pay due attention towards training pilots operating domestic flights. Now two Instructor Pilots—KB Limbu and Phijo Nepali—have provided ground class to pilots. The new pilots will take part in flying training soon. Since there are many STOL (short take-off and landing) airports in the mountain region, we can operate more flights there. When we had enough aircraft and pilots, we used to operate as many as 21 flights a day to Lukla alone.
Nepal Airlines has been in a critical situation due to its huge debt. How is the airline servicing the debt?
Actually, NAC has to repay about Rs. 35 billion. After I joined the airline last year, we paid Rs. 1.13 billion as an instalment of the loans borrowed for purchasing wide-body jets. Of the total amount of the instalment, we managed to pay it by borrowing Rs. 500 million. Because we are forced to pay loans by borrowing money from others, we are in a difficult position. So, we have requested the government to inject Rs. 20 billion as its equity into the national flag carrier. We are optimistic that the government will help us.
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