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TourMin asks PMO to tweak aviation policy

KATHMANDU:  The Tourism Ministry has written to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) to find a ‘stopgap measure’ to enable Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC) to lease an aircraft from Bhutan Airlines for a short period. The tourism portfolio is currently held by Prime Minister Sher Bahadur Deuba.

The national flag carrier had planned to lease an Airbus from Bhutan Airlines, but the Civil Aviation Policy prohibits imports of pressurized aircraft that are more than 15 years old, and the Bhutanese jet is 17 years old.

NAC is likely to face possible aircraft shortages and flight cancellations as its plan to wet lease an Airbus A319 to substitute for its Boeing 757, which is being sent away for a maintenance check, has had to be cancelled due to the rule.

Its Boeing is being sent away on July 16 for a maintenance check lasting 45 days.

“We tabled the proposal at the PMO on Tuesday. A small ‘policy address’ by the PMO would enable NAC to lease the aircraft,” said Buddhi Sagar Lamichhane, joint secretary at the Tourism Ministry. “Otherwise, flights will have to be cancelled, and we will have to take heavy losses.”

As per the financial proposal of Bhutan Airlines, it will charge $3,850 per hour under the wet lease agreement. A wet lease is a leasing arrangement under which the lessor provides the aircraft, complete crew, maintenance and insurance to another airline which pays by hours operated.

The Airbus A319 of Bhutan Airlines seats 122 passengers, and calculated on the basis of an average ticket price of Rs10,000 for the one-hour flight to Delhi, NAC can earn revenues of Rs2.4 million on every roundtrip. After deducting 30-35 percent for fuel and parking charges, the carrier could be making a good profit.

Lamichhane said that the proposed lease deal would be in favour of NAC. “However, it’s not only a question of profit. The key issue is that regular flights should not be cancelled,” he said. If NAC fails to find a replacement for its Boeing 757, it will have to slash flights from 37 weekly to 18 weekly, which means massive flight disruptions, he added.

There were only two takers when NAC invited bids for the wet lease of an Airbus A319, A320 or A321—Ukraine-based aircraft leasing company 12 Star Aviation and Bhutan Airlines. As per the proposal, the wet lease contract would begin on July 16 and last for 45 days. It can be extended to 60 days, NAC said.

The corporation plans to operate scheduled flights with the leased aircraft on the Kuala Lumpur, Doha, Delhi and Bangalore or other sectors. The second bidder’s offer had to be rejected as it was not technically qualified, said an NAC official. On April 10, the corporation put one of its two Boeing 757s up for auction.

NAC buys new shuttle buses

Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC), which holds the contract to provide ground handling services at Tribhuvan International Airport, has bought two more airport shuttle buses. They will begin operations next week.

According to NAC, the German-manufactured COBUS 3000 can hold up to 110 passengers.

The carrier has purchased the two buses at a cost of Rs100 million. Currently, it maintains two airport shuttle buses.

NAC moved to add buses following complaints by airlines that they had become inadequate as traveller numbers had swelled tremendously.

 THE KATHMANDU POST

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