Chinese team to visit Nepal to sign revised ASA

A Chinese delegation led by deputy administrator of the Civil Aviation Administration of China is scheduled to arrive here next week to sign a bilateral revised air service agreement (ASA) with Nepal, officials at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs said.

As per the scheduled programme, on February 24, Nepal and China will hold talks on various aviation issues, including raising the existing airlines frequency. The two countries are scheduled to sign the ASA on February 25.

Sushil Ghimire, secretary at the Ministry of Culture, Tourism and Civil Aviation (MoCTCA), will lead the Nepali delegation.

Although the number of seats to be allocated for Chinese carriers is yet to be fixed, government sources said the existing frequency could be more than doubled as some new Chinese carriers plan to connect Nepal in the near future.

At present, three Chinese airlines—Air China, China Eastern and China Southern—operate scheduled flights to Nepal. China Southern links Kathmandu to Guangzhou, while China Eastern and Air China fly to Kathmandu from Kunming and Lhasa, respectively.

Officials said China has also planned to connect Nepal from Shanghai. “The negotiation team will decide on the flight frequency for Chinese carriers,” MoCTCA officials said.

The existing ASA allows Chinese airlines to operate 14 flights per week. In addition, the government had issued temporary operating permits (TOP) for international airlines connecting Nepal, including the Chinese carriers, which allow an additional 14 flights per week. However, the government has not issued TOP for any airlines from the start of this year.

In November 2012, the Chinese government had asked Nepal to revise the ASA as travel demand has outstripped the seat capacity given to Chinese carriers. Nepal and China were scheduled to revise the ASA on October 25, 2013, but was postponed at the request of the Chinese side.

The Nepali side also has a number of agendas to be discussed during the negotiation. Among them, Nepal will propose allowing Nepali carriers to operate on the Lhasa sector. “If granted, it will also open the route for the national flag carrier and other private airlines to one of the world’s lucrative sector,” MoCTCA officials said, adding it would also end the monopoly of Air China on the route.

Kathmandu-Lhasa is one of the most expensive routes in the world as one-way airfare to the sector stands at $450.

Lhasa is connected from a few cities of China, while from outside China, it is only connected from Kathmandu.

Likewise, Nepal will also propose allowing “circle navigation flight” for Nepali helicopters to Kailash-Mansarovar in Tibet where hundreds of pilgrims, particularly Indian, come to take ceremonial bath in the cleansing waters of the lake. Every year, many Indians come for Mansarovar pilgrimage via Kathmandu, which takes about 2-3 weeks.

“Allowing Nepali helicopters to the Chinese airspace will facilitate pilgrims and will also contribute Nepal’s tourism significantly,” Tourism Ministry officials said.

Likewise, Trans-Himalaya 2 airspace (Hong Kong-Kunming-Guwahati-Kathmandu), which is one of the lucrative routes for Nepal, also tops Nepal’s agenda for the meeting. If the route is opened, it will be the shortest way from China and the Far East to the Middle East and Europe. The air distance from Kathmandu to Hong Kong will also be reduced.

Implementation of this airspace will allow international airlines to fly over Nepali airspace, which means savings in fuel and distance for carriers flying this route and revenue for Nepal. The route will also help environment protection with less carbon emission. The International Air Transport Association (IATA) has kept Himalaya 2 as a future requirement.

A number of issues, such as joint tourism promotion and code-share facilities will also be discussed during the meeting. The two countries signed the ASA in 2003 and Air China opened a direct air link between China and Nepal in 2004.

China provides almost 10,000 seats per week to seven Chinese cities and two to Osaka and Seoul each. Previously, Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) operated flights to Shanghai. However, Nepali carriers have not been able to utilise the allocated seats to designated Chinese cities. Based on reciprocal exchanges of authorisation, the ASA is normally revised depending on the country’s requirement of air seats.

Three Chinese carriers connecting Kathmandu flew 132,326 travellers in the first nine months of 2013—up 30.81 percent. Air China, China Southern and China Eastern saw healthy growth of 18.69 percent, 20.21 percent and 66.39 percent, respectively, compared to the corresponding period in 2012.

On April 16, Nepal and the United Arab Emirates signed an enhanced bilateral ASA, permitting the operation of 70 flights per week on a reciprocal basis.

Nepal has signed bilateral air service agreements with 36 countries since 1963. This provides 5.7 million seats per annum to and from Nepal. However, less than 40 percent of this capacity is being utilised. Presently, 27 international airlines are operating flights from Kathmandu to 22 cities in Asia and Europe.

source: ekantipur, 16 Feb 2014

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