MIN RATNA BAJRACHARYA
But with the Middle East being a major business destination as well as a transit hub for those travelling to Europe, Africa and the US the mix has gradually changed, bringing steady business for the carrier, which flies the route four times a week.
"When we started out, our customer base was more inclined to labourers," says Kumar De Silva, Etihad Airways' country manager for Nepal, "but now I would say that we have a good mix of business travellers as well."
Joost den Hartog, Etihad's regional general manager for Asia Pacific North and Indian Subcontinent, says that the economic ties between UAE and Nepal was the major reason for bringing Etihad here. "It has been an execellent year," says Hartog, "and as our network expands I see huge potential for growth."
De Silva too is positive about Etihad's future in Nepal. "The seat factor has been 70-80 per cent," says De Silva, "The officials at the airport, the agencies and the tourism board have been very supportive." Etihad has been pushing for 24-hour opening of the international airport as well as improved lounge facilities and better services in general.
Etihad's growth has bucked the trend in a time of global economic downturn, serving more than six million passengers in 2008 alone?a 34 per cent increase from the year before. "We try to bring in the best practices from all fields into our services," says Hartog, "that is what gives us our competitive advantage." But as airlines slash their ticket prices to new lows, it might be difficult for the company to maintain its pace.
In just five years of operating Etihad has become one of the fastest growing airlines, increasing its fleet from six to 42 aircrafts. It currently flies to 50 destinations and will add Melbourne and Belarus this year.
Hartog says: "Our aim is not to be the biggest but the best airline in the world."