It has been said that if you want to know how Nepal is doing, just look at how Royal Nepal Airlines is doing. Our flag carrier is an indicator of our country's wellbeing.
There were those glory days when Royal Nepal Airlines was a well-regarded carrier, and every Nepali took pride in its performance, punctuality, its vital services to remote area airfields. Passengers preferred the airline's in flight service to many other companies in the region. And Nepal's own image had not been tarnished by mass tourism, violence and political instability.
In the past 12 years, the country's political slide downwards is matched by the airline's descent into mismanagement due to overt politicisation. Since the restoration of democracy, party leaders and corrupt politicians made the airline their cash cows, ruining its brand name and making it synonymous with corruption.
There was a time when Royal Nepal Airlines had a fleet of 21 aircraft, today it is down to nine out of which only four are in operation at any given time. If anyone wanted a lesson in how to run a perfectly good airline to the ground, this is it. It is time now to go beyond the blame-game and trying to state the obvious about the political interference that ruined the airline, we must look forward and try to chart a strategy for recovery.
The staff's lack of motivation, half-hearted attitude, and absence of professionalism have been the result of political appointments at the top.
A politically-appointed board with directors who had no aviation knowledge was probably the biggest setback the airline faced, and is still facing. The first order of business is to get a board that knows the business.
Royal Nepal Airlines runs on taxpayers' money. It doesn't just belong to the employees or the government. It's interest is the national interest. At a time of crisis for the country and the airline, we must not let outsiders come in between us. Nepal's tourism industry can be saved if we save our national flag carrier. But if we sell our interests to foreign airlines like Qatar Airlines, we will slowly lose the only thing we have: our national integrity.
Besides, the policy of forcing Royal Nepal Airlines to become a service-oriented operator must be abandoned for a management strategy that stresses revenue-generation for long-term viability. There is a limit to how much the airline can be milked for populist services to non-profit sectors, why should it be the only one operating in loss-making sectors? This should be in the government's own interest, because it would allow the airline to be self-sufficient and less dependent on government largesse.
The present Managing Director, Mohan Khanal, is a person with 40 years of experience in the airline and has risen up the ranks. If he is given the freedom to manage the airline professionally without political interference and hassles, he is capable of pulling the airline out of its dive. It's as simple as that. Making Royal Nepal Airlines viable is not such a difficult task: all it needs is integrity and professionalism at the top. It can be done.
To make that happen, we the employees can start putting in quality time and working in a dedicated fashion to restore the airline's reputation for quality and service. At the moment, staff morale has sunk so low that the airline's employees are its own biggest critics. No company can survive like that. Negative thoughts and vibes will only bring negative results.
Perhaps what we need at present is an attitude and willingness to start off on a positive note, and the airline's staff is recognising that the company's image reflects on their image. A poor reputation of the airline will reflect poorly on them. And a shoddy airline is a blot on the country's own image.
First, we have to start working on a situation of trust among employees, which is at its lowest ebb for many of the reasons cited above. The only way to do this is to be united against interference from above or outside to professional decisions that the airline has to take. Too many times in the past the airline and its staff have paid dearly for the short-sighted political expediency of the government in power. The airline suffered, and the country suffered even more.
Our slogan should be: Royal Nepal Airlines is one family, and we will remain one no matter who is trying to divide us for personal benefit should be our slogan. Time is running out. Too much time has been squandered. We don't want to be a footnote in Nepal's aviation history, we will not allow our sacrifices and commitment to be wasted like this.
(Capt Vijay Lama is Chief Pilot of the Domestic Division of Royal Nepal Airlines and has been with the company for 15 years.)