PROCEEDING OF WEBINAR
Air Transport Development in Nepal: Issues and Implications of COVID-19
(Jointly organized by SoTEN and AITAAN)
Date: 27 May, 2020 Wednesday 3:00 PM NPT
(Video Link: https://www.facebook.com/TransportEngineersNepal/videos/870124983500755/?v=870124983500755 )
The program initiated with welcome speech from Mr. Kishore Shakya: President, AITAAN. Then the program was handed to Mr Sugat Ratna Kansakar, moderator of the program.
Presentation: Mr. Rajan Pokhrel, Director General, Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal.
He provides the general overview of aviation development in Nepal with current passenger and freight movement in both domestic and international aircraft operations. He also focuses on status of international airport under construction. He then focusses on the safety scenario of the aviation sector of Nepal and revealed it is 66.7%, above the minimum threshold of 60%. The crash scenario for helicopter is almost similar, whereas in other way the airplane crashes are declining. He emphasis on National Aviation Safety Plan (2018-2022) and recognition Nepal has got from international community regarding good safety practices. He then focus on the impact of COVID 19 on aviation sector. ICAO estimates 35% - 65% decrease in passenger ridership globally in 2020. Some relief has been suggested; including rescheduling of loan payment period; reduction in aviation fuel price, concession on parking and terminal rate and many more. CAAN has also been discussing about the operational modality of domestic and international flights and is expected to operation soon with completion of all safety measures required.
Remarks by Panelist: Mr. Lalit Bikram Shah
He focuses on the fact that Civil aviation has witnessed such crisis in the past too and it should mainly concern about how it can be resuming the flight soon. He emphasis on the formation of nonpolitical task force, which is common practices around the world. He appreciated the economic relief plan and policies suggested by CAAN, but again highlight the role of non-political task force.
He also found that none of the airports of Nepal are in High Risk Zone; which is the positive thing in this pandemic and CAAN can take this advantages following WHO guidelines and work closely with ICAO. He also gives examples of Qatar, how they resume the aircraft operation and suggested similar measures to be taken in Nepal too. Finally, he conclude that CAAN in close collaboration with airlines company should work aggressively for the flight resumption with proper envisioned vision and target.
Remarks by Panelist: Mr. Tirth bahadur Joshi
He basically emphasis on the construction works which where carried out on Tribhuwan International Airport, Gautam Buddha International Airport and Pokhara International Airports despite the lockdown. He raises the possible issues of price escalation and time extension on those projects and need proper consideration. Additionally, he took this case as the opportunity for repair and maintenance
Panelist: Tri Ratna Manandhar
He confirmation his opinions align with those presented by the presenter and other panelists. He shared few air travel stories of flights during the COVID19 lockdown and those that have opened after recently (India) and reflected on the potential issues those experiences suggest. According to him, air transport is going to be the first choice of many as the road condition is poor and relatively unsafe to travel. However, the recent experiences suggest that social distancing may not be possible as there are multiple points where crowding can occur. The many health related restrictions are bound to increase the processing time of the passengers to board a plane. He also pointed out that the travel guidelines can change very quickly and the airlines or airport management cannot cope with the change. Finally, he suggested that the development of Nijgadh International Airport should begin to generate employment and improve the air transport sector.
Session Chair - Birendra Deoja
He appreciated the presenter as the presentation captured the overall scenario of past, present and future of Nepal’s air transport sector. He added that an immediate concern is relief package for this sector. Intensive management approach to resume the service is necessary. Job opportunity needs to be created through vigorous airport construction. He also mentioned that it would take at least 2 years to get back to normal.
He also mentioned that social distancing differ from place to place and is not practical to maintain all the time. Nepal specific interventions to tackle the situation in Nepal needs to be discussed. Passenger movement may reduce, but cargo demand is sure to go up. General aviation and business flights will therefore increase in time. Focus on opening domestic air traffic. He also highlighted that the decisions should be made by technical experts’ team and not only political or individual decision.
Participants’ discussion was welcomed.
Suresh Prakash Acharya: Presenter’s presentation was comprehensive. Current condition is deteriorating and government is under high pressure as revenue collection is low. Priority should be given to maintain operability of the current airports rather than expanding and improving airports. Secondly, safety of passengers should be considered. Provide mask to passengers, protective gear to airhostess and operating staffs. Subsidy to provide these safety gears. Need safety guidelines.
Kishore Shakya: New airport near Lumbini by India, load for Bhairahawa International Airport would be sufficient or captured by the airport in India? Secondly, TIA building was not good. Pokhara airport may also be small in the long run, do we have a master plan for that?
1. CAAN regulatory and operation is going to be separate, can you elaborate on that.
2. Social distance in air plane, cost is going to increase
3. 80 lakh available seats, but is not fully utilized.
4. Gautam Buddha Airport do not have international route cleared permit?
5. EU blacklisted us, what is the status?
6. Nigadh International alirport, when will issues related to EIA resolve?
7. Vehicle operation cost cannot be competitive with India as tax is high in Nepal, what is cost comparison in air transport sector?
Response from Presenter- Rajan Pokhrel
Coordination between governments is ongoing regarding the airport near Bhairahawa in India.
Pokhara is a good domestic and limited international airport. There won’t be an issue with terminal. Bhairahawa has sufficient capacity for at least 5 years and there is a plan to construct second terminal as well.
Safety issues needs to be considered. Monitoring and enforcement of Airlines needs to be done. It may be considered done in Nepal, but international community is not going to accept it unless international guidelines and requirement are met.
EIA is under consideration in the court for Nijgadh International airport. Under coordination with provincial government works for perimeter road construction underway. Switzerland Zurich airport is willing to construct the airport. Decision of court is restricting the formal process ahead.
Nepal Airlines and other airlines cannot compete with other international airlines. Fuel is major cost in operation which is high in Nepal. Coordination with other airlines can be done – code-sharing, marketing International safety audit needs to be done. The process is underway. However, we have limited network service coverage with only point-to-point operation. Lack of coordination has restricted market coverage.
Safety audit had low compliance. We are above average and improving. So, we will get through it soon. The ongoing process is delayed by current pandemic situation.
Tulasi Sitaula: Can we go-through the current situation? What is CAAN doing to reopen domestic air service and international flights in few months’ time, what is the preparedness?
Swarup Koney: Service should be resumed as soon as possible. But, how do you assure people that it is safe to travel? Problem at airport in scanning and checking. Coordination with other airlines is necessary to keep track of all the passengers in a centralize information system. Reduce crowd at check-in – allow remote check-in, luggage self-check-in overall safety.
Deepak Shrestha: What is the status of Nijgadh International Airport.
Hare Ram Shrestha: India resumed its air transport. What did they do to maintain social distancing and disinfecting, how much is the cost associated with it and burden to the airlines company? Is subsidy needed to be given by government? How much is the overburden.
Kishore Shakya: What does Nepal Airlines corporation need to do to cope with the need to pay back loan and investment costs after buying the wide body planes?
Shambhu KC: (From Cabul) Airlines are stagnant, how long will it take CAAN to rescue the Nepalese abroad.
Response from the presenter: Rajan Pokharel:
India has opened air transport service. We are coordinating and discussing with the ministry, and operators and are in positive direction. Preparations is underway. First, international guidelines and best practices based guideline has been prepared and needs to be approved by higher level. Airlines needs to make their own procedure based on that.
Check-in, security is high crowd area and has been marked to maintain social distancing. Disinfection procedure is fully prepared. It was done in the past and have been improved for reopening. A committee composed of custom, security, immigration etc. is also working and we are regularly in touch with them.
Firstly, we are going to open domestic service with only 20-30% of the previous operating capacity at first. Detail discussion is going on. We can open domestic service anytime if govt. of Nepal decides to do so.
Digital check-in is considered, but is challenging. Digital scanning of passport is also required. The discussion on this is going on.
Deepak Shrestha: National-International collaboration in constructing airports like Nijgadh Airport is in practice around the world. Private sector operated airport is a bit difficult in context of Nepal. Grass root works is being coordinated with Province government for Nijgadh International Airport.
In terms of added cost, existing air fare, may not be needed to be reviewed as they are operating in minimum range and already has float to go a bit higher. Airport also do not plan to add cost for the additional safety/health directives.
Sambhu KC (from Kabul): According to him, flights operating decision do not rest on CAAN alone. CAAN presents its assessment to higher multi-agency panel. He re-affirmed that they are prepared to operate if government decides to open the service.
Moderator: Saugat Kansakar
According to him, two important dimensions need to be considered- Safety of passenger and crew, & safety of the operation crew of airport. What model should we go, to ensure their safety?
Airlines are collapsing around the world, and when German National flag carrier filed for bankruptcy, the government announced to give 11 kharab to rescue it. Nepal also needs to think on it.
Safety and distancing in airlines may not be practical. Jet plane has good air quality. If middle seat is kept empty, the fare may go up to double. We must go to self-service technology (remote/robotic operations).
He also indicated the practical problem with rescuing people awaiting to return to Nepal as the number is very high and Nepal has limited planes to do so. He also pointed out that the government decision allows or restricts Nepal Airlines to make such trips abroad, and not the airlines itself.
Further, Code share with limited number of aircrafts is not possible as if one aircraft is grounded, other 3 may not be available to fill the gap.
Shekhar Golcha – He indicated that the remittance is now low, Nepal needs to export what we can and such sector needs to be prioritized with incentive. Tourism is one of such sector but we have not been able to cash it. Nepal is among top 5 most expensive airfare destination in the world. This is one of the major limiting factor to tourism sector in Nepal. He highlighted that without success of the nation’s flag carrier, tourism sector cannot flourish to its potential.
He clarified that the reason for high fare is fuel cost as it is most expensive in Nepal as compared to other countries. According to him the reason for such high air fuel price is cross-subsidy to kerosene which was decided about 40-50 years ago when there was no cooking gas used in Nepal. He highlighted that the air fuel cost must be reduced to reduce the burden on the airlines.
Kishore Shakya: Good discussion, hope such discussion will continue in the future as well. We had not heard these sort of discussion in the anywhere. We, professional orgs., are already ready to discuss and support in any way possible. Thank you all.
Padma Shahi- Vote of Thanks
He expressed his thanks to the presenter, panelists, and the participants. He appreciated the healthy discussion and knowledge sharing among the professionals. He confirmed to have learned a lot. He also expressed his thanks to all his colleagues who helped to organize the event successfully.
More than 123 participants had participated on the webinar, and was available to broader audience through FB live. The program was facilitated by Shreeram Dhakal, Secretary of SoTEN and rapporteur assigned were Vibek Gupta and Hemant Tiwari.
(Video Link: https://www.facebook.com/TransportEngineersNepal/videos/870124983500755/?v=870124983500755 )