KATHMANDU, Nepal (The Kathmandu Post/ANN) - Nepal Airlines is moving to reconnect Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, more than three decades after it stopped flying there.
Nepal Airlines Corp (NAC) has moved to reconnect Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, more than three decades after it stopped flying there.
The carrier has applied for fifth freedom operating rights at the Tourism Ministry. It plans to fly from Kathmandu to Colombo via Bangalore but skip the stopover on the return flight.
The fifth freedom right allows an airline to carry revenue traffic between foreign countries as part of services connecting the airline’s own country. It refers to the right to carry passengers from one’s country to a second country and from that country to a third country.
“We are assessing NAC’s proposal and it will be provided the right soon,” said Pramod Nepal, under-secretary at the ministry.
NAC Managing Director Sugat Ratna Kansakar said they had not fixed the exact date for the resumption of flights to Colombo. “We are assessing the Colombo market.”
Sri Lanka is the fourth largest tourist source market for Nepal after India, China and the US. In 2014, Nepal received 37,546 tourists from Sri Lanka.
As there are no direct flights connecting the two countries, 90 per cent of Sri Lankan visitors enter Nepal overland at Bhairahawa to visit Buddhist sites in Lumbini. They normally spend less than a day as the tour packages for Sri Lankan pilgrims are handled by Indian tour operators, travel trade entrepreneurs said.
Sri Lankan arrivals to Nepal have been increasing since 2009 when there were 36,362 visitors. In 2010, the number jumped to 44,531. In 2011, when Nepal launched a tourism year programme, Sri Lankan arrivals crossed the 50,000 mark to reach 59,884.
The momentum continued in 2012 when the country received 69,476 visitors from Sri Lanka. However, the figure plunged to 32,736 in 2013.
During the 1980s, the national flag carrier, in its previous avatar as Royal Nepal Airlines, used to operate direct flights to Colombo. It was forced to suspend operations following the armed movement by the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam (LTTE) in Sri Lanka. Since then, there has been no direct air links between the two countries.
The plan to establish direct flights was revived during the 18th summit of the South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) held in Kathmandu on November 26, 2014.
Subsequently, the Sri Lankan government officially applied for authorisation to conduct daily flights between Kathmandu and Colombo with Colombo-based carrier Mihin Lanka planning to start services.
On March 6, the Tourism Ministry issued the operating authorisation to the carrier to operate flights to Nepal. However, the plan was abandoned after the April 25 earthquake.