After trying to find a flight back to Nepal from Europe for Dasain, I finally found a seat on an Indian airline up to Delhi. I now had to book DEL-KTM-DEL, but it was almost impossible.
At a time when the tourism sector is looking at a healthy autumn season, flights to and from Nepal are once more going to be a major bottleneck. It needn't be like this.
There is no point blaming other international airlines. Arranging modern, reliable transport to our own country should be our own responsibility. Making fares competitive and looking at the larger benefits to the country from expanded air connections should be the strategy.
Even more important than tourism is for Nepal's national airline to be the carrier of choice for Nepalis travelling abroad for work. Even Nepalis don't travel on Nepal Airlines because of unreliable and shoddy service. This can easily be changed so that the estimated one million Nepalis working in south-east Asia and the Gulf choose their own flag carrier to travel to and from home.
It just needs proper planning, efficient management and minimum government interference in the running of the airline. There is no point just looking to the past and blaming corruption, mismanagement and political instability. The question is: what are we going to do now?
The strategy should to be an efficient regional airline to bring passengers to Nepal from the Gulf and south-east Asian hubs: Dubai, Bahrain, Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Bangkok and Hong Kong. Code-sharing links with international airlines to pick up passengers there could make transfers smooth. But these hubs are also where Nepalis themselves go for overseas work, so it is a double bonanza.
Restart India flights. We sit next door to a huge tourism and pilgrim market. For a full year, Nepal Airlines didn't fly to a single Indian destination, and has just restarted its daily morning flight to Delhi. Even if only 0.5 per cent of India's vast middle class in Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, decided to fly to Nepal, our planes would be full.
Fleet expansion is a must and is much delayed. The ageing two 757s were the most modern jets in the world when RNAC bought them in 1985. Today, they are superannuated. For the hub model, we need wide-body, fuel-efficient, medium-range twin jets. For shuttles to India the airline needs narrow bodies and even turboprops.
It boils down to management. Politicians and bureaucrats will be suspicious of an independent management consultant because they are afraid the advantages they derive from the airline will be lost. But there are plenty of Nepalis with international civil aviation experience who could be brought in, and some of them actually have experience in the airline. Bringing them in with guarantees of no government interference could work.
If the airline has lost its international reputation, there may be an opportunity to cash in on its tooling and maintenance facility in Kathmandu and use the cheaper manpower for engineering services, or specialisation in flight operations. If the airline can tap into even a tiny part of the Indian or Chinese market for maintenance or consultancy support for flight operations development, that would be a major step forward.
Minesh Poudel is an aviation instructor at ENAC (the National Civil Aeronautics Academy) in Toulouse, France. Views expressed here are the author's own.
Blue skies ahead - FROM ISSUE #413 (15 AUG 2008 - 21 AUG 2008)