Nepal and Thailand are all set to revise the bilateral air services agreement (ASA) this week to increase the existing 10 weekly flights’ frequency by more than three folds to meet the growing demand of air travellers between the two countries.A tourism ministry delegation, led by Joint Secretary Suresh Acharya, left for Bangkok on Wednesday to revise the ASA.
“As per schedule, we will be holding negotiations on Thursday. The signing of the revised ASA is expected to take place on Friday,” said Acharya.
He said that the exact frequency of the flights would be decided during the negotiation. However, sources at the ministry said that flights’ frequency could increase by more than three folds. According to Acharya, Nepal will be granting flight permission for Thailand on two additional points: Gautam Buddha International Airport, in Lumbini, and Pokhara International Airport, in Pokhara. Of these two international airports, which are under construction, Gautam Buddha is expected to come into operation by the end of 2019.
Thailand, which has a majority of Buddhist population, is keen to connect direct flights to Gautam Buddha International Airport, in Lumbini, as it is the gateway to the birthplace of Buddha, said Acharya. However, it’s not clear as to how many flights would be offered at the airport, he said.
“Apart from the frequency, there will be agreements on code-share, promotion of tourism destinations on mutual basis and other aviation cooperation issues,” said Acharya.
The move to revise the ASA was prompted after Thailand’s low-cost carrier (LCC) Thai Lion Air made its flight on the Bangkok-Kathmandu route last August. It became the second carrier from the land of white elephants to connect with Nepal after five decades. Thai Airways, which started its first flight to Nepal in December 1968, had completed 50 years of operation in Nepal last year.
Currently, Thai Lion has been operating three weekly flights—Mondays, Wedne-sdays and Fridays—from the Don Mueang International Airport, one of the two international airports in Bangkok. As Thai Airways has been operating seven weekly flights, the remaining three flights are allotted to Thai Lion under the agreement’s provision. Thai Lion has planned to operate daily flights but the agreement’s provision does not allow it to add additional flights.
According to tourism ministry officials, another carrier from Thailand has also expressed interest to operate flights to Nepal. The growth in tourist numbers and cargo from Thailand to Nepal in particular has prompted the airlines to add extra flights. Nepal received 26,722 visitors from Thailand in 2016, which grew to 39,154 in 2017, according to government statistics. Traders said that cargo movement from Thailand has also been growing strongly as most of the goods imported from China are transported via Thai Airways to Nepal. In 2004, Nepal and Thailand signed a revised Memorandum of Understanding on extending air services, permitting up to 10 flights per week with any kind of aircraft, up from seven. Nepal has bilateral ASAs with 38 other countries.