Nepali Times Asian Paints
Lawrence flies from SQ to Cosmic

Nepali Times: Why did you choose to return to Nepal and work with Cosmic Air?
Lawrence KC Liew
: I thought I could retire from Singapore Airlines and age gracefully but then I missed the thrill of being in the airlines business. When Cosmic called, I decided it was better than sitting home and watching tv. After all I have been here before so I know what the situation is despite negative reports. I knew it was safe so I wasn't worried.

Why did Singapore Airlines pull out of Nepal?
Security was a major concern. Shortly after 11 September, there were a few arrests made in Singapore of a Muslim fundamentalist group, which is a branch of the al Qaeda. There was specific threat that they were going to hijack an SQ plane and ram it into one of the high-rise buildings of Singapore. The company felt it had to pull out of Kathmandu.

What are Cosmic's future plans?
Even as we speak now our third Fokker 100 is doing its test flights in Amsterdam. We should have the plane here by Sunday or Monday.

Are poor ground handling and small domestic terminals a problem for your jets?
Those are the limitations we face at this point. Our Fokker 100 will be due for checks and we don't have a hangar big enough to conduct it thoroughly. With permission from the Royal Nepal Airlines, we have borrowed their hangar to check one aircraft at a time. Our next project will be to build a hangar of our own. Other limitations are parking. When our fourth Fokker 100 arrives, we wonder where we're going to park it at night.

How about runway length in Nepalganj, Bhairawa and Biratnagar?
We have tried and proven that the runway can accept our aircraft. There is no shortage of runway space otherwise we would not be operating there. Safety has always been our top priority. That's why we did a test flight to Pokhara last week. When we get permission, we will use only 60 percent of the aircraft payload.

Are you filling seats?
Tourist traffic has dipped but Indian tourists are coming back. We need serious promotional campaigns to get people to believe in the safety and relative security of Nepal. My job is to identify the potential for which tourists would want to come to Kathmandu. With blockades, more and more people have been forced to fly. It isn't just Nepalis, even tourists prefer flying to travelling by land.

Is undercutting on fares hurting?
We have advance purchases where a limited number of seats are given at discounts to people certain about their travel plans. This is not unusual, other airlines do it too. We had a buy one-get-one-free campaign on our Delhi flight and it was so popular, we extended it till the end of February.

Is crew a problem?
We have our own French and Indonesian engineers and pilots. We took a Civil Aviation official to Holland to train him in flight safety inspections of Fokker 100s.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)