Sangam Prasain, The Kathmandu Post, 9 April 2018
2017 remained yet another bumper year for domestic airlines, as they recorded 39.47 percent jump in domestic air passenger movement following addition of new aircraft to cater to the growing number of air travellers.
Domestic airline companies saw movement of a record 2.45 million passengers in 2017, as travellers chose to fly rather than drive over bone-jarring national highways. The number of air travellers recorded in 2017 is 693,794 more than in 2016, according to Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA). The figure includes 40,349 passengers flown by helicopter companies and single-engine aircraft.
2017 has been the most productive year for Nepal’s domestic airline industry so far, as airlines added nearly a dozen aircraft to their fleets. With the addition of these aircraft, Nepali skies saw an average of 255 domestic flight movement per day, up from 200 in 2016.
“Passenger traffic grew exponentially last year and 2018 is likely to be another bumper year given the current demand,” said Ghanshyam Acharya, spokesperson of Airlines Operators Association of Nepal.
The hike in passenger movement is a sign of rising disposable income of Nepalis, according to Acharya. The domestic airline industry also received a major boost in 2017 due to rise in foreign tourist movement. Yet airlines are suffering as the infrastructure at TIA is not adequate to cope with the influx of domestic and foreign travellers, Acharya said.
“This is worsening air traffic congestion, leading to flight cancellations and delays. These factors are pushing up operating cost of airline companies.”
There are two factors attracting flyers: poor condition of national highways and competitive airfare, Acharya informed.
Domestic air passenger movement was on a constant decline since 2012 marking a departure from the robust growth rates seen since 2008 when airlines were flying high due to competitive airfares, constant protests and road blockades, forcing travellers to take it to the air. At that time, rise in NGO/INGO staff movement because of the ongoing peace process and a real estate boom also helped airlines to do a brisk business.
Airlines saw a heady growth of 13 percent in passenger movement in 2008. The growth rate jumped to 33 percent in 2009, as fares were cut amid stiff competition. Although passenger movement increased 12.83 percent in 2010, the growth rate dropped in 2011 and recorded negative growth from 2012 to 2015.
This trend reversed in 2016 when Nepali skies saw a total of 73,876 flights, up 12.16 percent than in 2015.
Airlines-wise, Buddha Air led the pack in movement of passengers in 2017. Buddha recorded 25.44 percent growth in passenger number last year, flying 1.26 million passengers — the highest number so far by an individual airline in Nepal’s aviation industry. Buddha’s rival, Yeti Airlines saw its passenger number grow by 35.73 percent to 554,745 in 2017.
Yeti’s subsidiary Tara Air, which only operates on remote sectors, however, observed a decline of 7.48 percent in passenger movement. It flew 65,301 passengers last year.
Saurya Airlines, which started operation in November 2014, carried 182,014 passengers, up 101.77 percent. Nepal’s largest helicopter operator Shree Airlines which launched fixed-wing service in April last year, flew 115,600 passengers.
Likewise, Nepal Airlines saw its passenger number jump 97.63 percent to 95,100. Simrik Airlines and Summit Air (previously Goma Air) also saw passenger growth in 2017, with Simrik flying 65,322 passengers, up 33.61 percent, and Summit ferrying 42,498 passengers, up 31.10 percent. Passengers flying Sita Air grew 11.96 percent to 21,640.