Nepali Times
Guest Column
Grounded too long


To plot the trajectory of the downfall of Nepal Airlines, you have to go back to the 1990 pro-democracy movement. People power may have been good for the country, but it spelt disaster for the airline. The two main political parties of the time competed to milk the cash cow until it ran dry.

Nepali Congress was in power for longer, so it had more time for mischief. Corruption, mismanagement and interference destroyed a once proud airline that was known for its viable international service that subsidised domestic air travel.

The list of scandals is long, but three stand out: the Lauda Air lease, the Dhamija scam, and the unfortunate sale of two perfectly good fully depreciated 727s that we hear are still flying in South Africa. UML learnt from NC and tried to get kickbacks on later aircraft deals as well. It got to a point where politicians, when they couldn't pocket kickbacks from inflated purchase prices, started skimming off the over-invoiced hourly lease rate of jets. Obsolete aircraft like 737-100s were leased just because the payoffs to politicians were heftier.

Today, the pickings have become so slim and the greed so insatiable that politicians and their appointees in the airline try to cheat even on engine maintenance contracts and other purchases. Just this month, someone actually stole the Fly Away Kit that always has to be on board a 757.

Nepal's flagship, which once had four jets and 11 Twin Otters, now has just two 757s and three airworthy Twin Otters, and even these are grounded most of the time. The four million Nepalis who work in India, the Gulf, Malaysia, Korea and Japan have to use the airlines of other countries to come home. While Qatar Airways has 21 flights a week between Kathmandu and Doha, Nepal Airlines can barely manage two to service the half a million Nepalis who live in Qatar. Nepal Airlines would be viable if it did nothing else but just flew Nepali workers back and forth. But because the airline was never allowed to grow and respond to that demand, Nepali passengers have to pay premium tariffs to foreign airlines. Most of the money our workers save through their blood and sweat doesn't even stay here with a Nepali airline. What could be more tragic than that?

Every time the airline has tried to add aircraft to respond to passenger demand, vultures have moved in to scuttle the deal. The current debacle over the Airbus purchase is a case in point. The Europeans removed middlemen, and offered a package deal on a 330 and 320 for 16 per cent off the rack price. What did we do? We hauled the CEO off to jail for transferring Airbus Industrie an advance for the two jets as per contract.

If the deal had gone through, Nepal Airlines would by now be flying 320s on our India and Thailand routes, and the 330 for the Gulf, Malaysia and Japan. It would have been a big boost to NTY 2011. But we bungled it, and even if we decide to revive the deal now it will cost us Rs 2 billion more, not counting the opportunity cost.

To be sure, it is not just the politicians to blame. Nepal Airlines management has allowed itself to be manipulated and divided by political factions in government. The internal polarisation in the airline today reflects the country's political polarisation.

Look at how the private domestic airlines in Nepal have grown and prospered and see what we could do if the politicians left us alone. We need a CEO who is not the puppet of the minister of the moment.

Domestic private airlines pay Rs 600,000 per month to a captain, but the allowances and salary of a jet captain on NAC is barely Rs 130,000. Experienced NAC captains are now flying for foreign carriers and earning $10,000 a month. The crew exodus is now so serious that even if the airline buys new planes, there will be no one to fly them.
People ask me why I still stick with Nepal Airlines. I reply that I will only quit when it is flying high again, or when it has to close down.

When I joined Nepal Airlines in 1988 I made a silent promise to myself that I would proudly wear my uniform and fly my country's flag around the world. There are many motivated staff like me in Nepal Airlines: pilots, flight attendants, managers, ground staff. And that is what gives me hope for the future of Nepal Airlines.

Vijay Lama has been flying Twin Otters and Boeing 757s for Nepal Airlines for the last 24 years.

Read also
Dysfunction, Inc., PRASHANT JHA

1. Raghu
Well said Vijaya. I feel for you. Anything the politicians touches, it becomes dust.

RNAC should be privatised

2. Sony
Goodluck Vijay with NA flights. I heard that the N A planes are overloaded on a pretty frequent basis to carry stuffs of chinejaneko. I wont risk my life taking NA

3. who cares
this is communism bro. 

4. Robin
We need people like Vijay Lama and Kul Limbu to run NAC, not those political appointees who are sucked up and suck the company dry.

5. yetiinkathmadu
dont blame the communists bro...blame yourselves for keeping quiet while you butt gets kicked.

6. Dev Batsya

It is sad to read about the current state of NA caused by machinations of corrupt politicians and by inept management within the NA itself.

There are many honest and hard-working Nepalese like those working for Nepal Airlines as Vijay Lama has stated. You can find them throughout the country in almost every field working as farmers, laborers, teachers, small businessmen, doctors, engineers etc. There are honest people like these even in the government bureaucracy and the police-force. They are millions of them who are laboring abroad and sending remittances back home to support their families, and thereby supporting the country's economy.

It is easy to overlook these silent people because they rarely if ever make the headlines; they do not make loud threats against their fellow-citizens or indulge in violence. All they are trying to do is make an honest living by going to work every day, and support their families.

 Because of their honesty and integrity, they are of little use to any political parties or organizations; and they frequently get sidelined for promotions, their grievances are hardly ever heard.

All the headlines on TV and newspapers are usually captured by the brass loud-mouthed  leaders affiliated with different political parties and organizations. Most often these so-called leaders,unlike the silent class, are people who rarely have any professional skill or a job, and do not have to go work daily to support their family.

They parasitize and subsist on the hard-earned labor and income of others by threatening them directly for donations or thrive by misuse of public/government funds( collected again through the hard-earned labor of the silent  majority).

Until the silent majority wakes up and shakes off this parasitic class and demands more accountability from the government, political parties and civic organizations, the country will keep on sliding towards the same fate  as Nepal Airlines.

7. NG

What's happened at NAC is pathetic and totally symbolic of a nation being driven to ruins, not by any foreign power, but by the hands of those whom we were so foolish enough to believe in and follow.  Our home brewed nexus of Netas ( translation:  Mafia, Camera, yakuza, Triads...take your pick )...   There is no word that can satiate the depravity of these hyenas who in the space of a short 20 years have sucked the very lifeblood out of a once proud airline ( read country ).   The root cause of this is the political  elitism that has existed in our nation that allowed a small group  of educated brahmins and Chettris to rule the roost for the past 300 years.  Monopoly ?  Power behind the throne ?  Let's face it, the Shahs or the Shamshers were nothing but dumb despots who as long as they got their shot of Old Grouse could'nt care less if the Terai was burning or if the Bagmati ran dry.  Koirala or Bhattarai or Pandey - same wolf , different forest to hunt each decade.  Hunt in packs and keep everyone ignorant so you can rape and pillage the country side at will.   But I am beginning to ramble here because every time I read about NAC, my blood boils and my stomach curdles with disgust.    So it is with NAC.  Its days are numbered but even now there are vultures waiting to pick the fatally wounded Yeti and plunderers waiting to bring the edifice down and sell the plot of prime land to the highest bidder for another shopping mall.   Let's cut the suffering short and take the life support off from the comatose patient that is NAC.  Which pilot in his right mind ( with due respect to the honorable but quixotic Mr. Lama who is fighting a windmill here ) would want to risk his present or future with an airline that simple cannot fly straight even if it wanted to.   There are so many villains  to this sordid  tragedy that nothing short of a mass cleansing will work.  And after that, just sell the damned company to some other sucker who wants it so badly.

8. who cares
5. yetiinkathmadu,,

dude, i am active.

9. Daniel Lee, USA

Dear Cpt.Vijay,


It is sad to know about the RNAC's current situation. However, looking into the current socioeconomic and political situation in Nepal your promise of "I will only quit when it is flying high again, or when it has to close down."  may surely come true one way or other. Here you are crying foul from last couple of years, but the truth of the matter is the country itself is cheated and raped over and over again by the same group of corrupt, selfish, power hungry, self-centered, and ruthless leaders. Hence, improvement in economic front with honesty and fairness is the only answer to your questions. It is admirable to see you still flying the same old RNAC planes amidst the chaos and conflict in the whole country. Unfortunately, until the political situation is resolved and our leaders follow the path of honesty, I see very little hope for honest and hardworking people like you.  It seems like you should run for the political office and become a minister to clear this whole mess yourself and start fresh from the scratch. It is in deed very sad to see that Nepal with so much air traffic from all over the world does not have their own quality airlines to provide the services. We may have to seek advice from the Thai International.   

10. DR
NG, I fully agree. Your anger and frustration is well heard all over Nepal and abroad. We may have to sell the "dammned country" itself to "some other suckers who wants it so badly." Afterall, it is already hollow and empty within by the age old deeply rooted system of mass corruption from top to bottom.   It seems like even if we bring 20 Mao and 20 Gandhi in Nepal it will still not be sufficient to clean up the mess.

11. jange

Interesting that everyone is willing to blame the politicians but no one wants to point out that the political system is designed to make it almost impossible to resist this kind of corruption.

We want electoral democracy but pretend that it costs nothing. How else are political parties to be financed? A system where a levy was charged on all voters in order to finance political parties would, at one stroke, reduce this kind of corruption to a trickle. It would also make it the exception rather than the rule so that it would be easier to prosecute.

Hundred rupees per person per year would be more than sufficient. Any takers?

12. Aakash
sorry to say but NAC will soon be collapsed.....

13. Never mind

Don't know about you 11, but while I agree, I think that would make Nepal the first country in the world to have popularly kicked out democracy.

14. Anant

NAC is a metaphor for the state of Nepal:

1) Cancellation and not reaching your destination = Political impasse

2) Lack of In-flight Entertainment, lack of spare parts etc = Rubbish infrastructure, loadshedding, water shortage 

3) One airworthy 757 = No other options get the idea

But seriously, as Captain Lama has alluded, NAC could be a profitable enterprise by just servicing the manpower industry.

I'm looking into flying to Kuala Lumpur soon and heard that the govt has rescinded the licence for Air Arabia to fly direct KTM-KL due to lobbying by NAC. Apparently, this route is the most lucrative for NAC. So I thought about flying direct to KL with NAC and looked at the flight schedule on the website about 2 weeks ago. The number of cancellations for the KL route put me off so now I'll pay a premium and take Thai Airways via BKK instead.

If NAC were reliable then I would have flown with them and my rupees would have remained in Nepal. The govt and management of NAC better decide on what business model to adopt and do it quick. In my opinion Qatar Airways is now the de facto standard for international flights to and from Nepal although they're getting pretty pricey and Air Asia/Air Arabia are waiting in the wings at the low cost end. Once they're established NAC won't get another look in.

NAC is dying a slow death and is in ICU

4) No national flag carrier = no country




15. Aashish
I remember as a kid attending the 25th anniversary of RNAC......(I will never call it NAC.....not because I am a royalist). I was a proud son of RNAC employee. My dad worked for the carrier all his life, 35 years. An honest man who put ethics in front of anything else in the world. He once charged Ex King Birendra 150,000 rs. for extra baggage. So much of self respect that he worked as temporary employee for 15 years, he had a Masters in economics. He saw people who started after him, with half capability make millions.
He always believed that RNAC one day could reach highs of Thai or Emirates, the latter I believe started 20 years later. I remember him going to work even on Dashain ko Tika ko din. He believed in hard work and education.
 I also remeber there were factions among different caste system within the company....newar, bahuns and there are political factions.....Since very young I remember my dad saying...."Oh my god now so and so is the foreign minister, RNAC is going to hell". I wonder how many of these ministers have sucked blood out of my beloved Airlines. I used to call it my daal bhat, because that was where my dad made his descent living.

Now I am here in the US. But I have this deep sentiment for RNAC, my heart fills with grief knowing the present situation. I have known many captains and other staff in the company. A lot of them still dearly love being there and are proud of the carrier, it is a sense of nationalism, a symbol of pride. I really hope and pray that miraculously our beloved RNAC finds a savior

16. Astha Shrestha
Folks, its good to be proud and patriotic, but reason should prevail over emotions.  If you don't have anything to lose by being a day or two (or weeks), then go for RA.  But if you're on a serious mission, then you might want to consider what the foolowing writer had to write on the blogs:

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)