Mohan Khanal has been with Royal Nepal Airlines for 30 years, rising up the ranks to become general manager. He spoke to us this week about the national flag carrier's poor reliability and what he is doing to improve services.
Nepali Times: In the past month, Royal Nepal Airlines' image has been battered even more than usual because of severe flight disruptions. Do you have plans to overcome this?
Mohan Khanal: Unfortunately, twice this past month both our 757s were grounded for a period and I accept that this has dented our reputation. But since then, the technical problems have been fixed and the planes and our service are back to normal. Part of the reason was that the jets are in the air 12 hours a day. So, as soon as possible, we intend to lease a third 757. In the longterm, we are working out a five-year strategy for growth. Projecting present trends, we feel that there is scope for four to five jets for international routes.
Does your five-year strategy include plans for going public or a joint venture with a foreign investor?
We could probably do it alone, but that would require political will and correcting all the other deficiencies that the airline has struggled with in the past. We would prefer a joint venture partner, someone willing to put in equity, as part of the present privatisation process. For this we are awaiting the results of the study we have commissioned through the International Civil Aviation Organisation. One option would be to make the foreign sector a part of an international holding company with shares in domestic operations.
There is a huge increase in demand for domestic flights, how are you planning to cope with it?
We could bring in a larger aircraft for trunk routes and mountain flights, which we have evaluated. But the priority at the moment is international, and we don't have the capacity to make investments in both sectors simultaneously. We have made a major push to get five of our seven Twin Otters flying again to regularise the service to remote area airports and that service is going very well to meet present demands.
As someone who has risen up the ranks, when would you say the rot set in?
Things started going really wrong 12 years ago. We couldn't implement our own strategies for expansion: for example, if we had added the extra 767 and started phasing out Twin Otters in 1995 as we were supposed to, we would be in a much better shape today. In the past 12 years we had 21 general managers. They were short-term political appointees, there was no continuity and it was ad hoc. These were people who did not know the 'A' of aviation or the 'T' of tourism. What else can you call it but political interference? That was the tragedy.
People keep saying Thai International and Royal Nepal started at the same time, and look at where Thai is now.
Yeah, I've heard that being said many times and my standard response is: look at where Thailand is now. An airline can't be an island of efficiency when the whole country is going downhill. When your country is run like Charkhal Adda, how can you have an airline that runs like Singapore Airlines? Thai International developed because Thailand developed. Our airline has gone downhill because the country itself is sliding.