KATHMANDU, August 13: Air Arabia, which has been flying from UAE to Kathmandu since Monday, has started carrying passengers from both destinations from Thursday. Due to the lack of rapid polymerase chain reaction (PCR) testing facility at Nepal's airport, Air Arabia had been carrying passengers coming to Nepal from the UAE since Monday.
The Saudi Arabian airline- Air Arabia-- in collaboration with Alpha Diagnostic Pvt Ltd started providing the service of rapid PCR to its passengers heading to UAE. The flights started taking place yesterday (Thursday). The flight number G9538 of the airline carrying 167 Nepalis left for Sharjah at 8 PM on Thursday.
Alpha Diagnostic, approved by the Ministry of Health and Population, has started operating a lab near the airport and giving rapid test reports. Earlier, the Air Transport Operations Dubai Civil Aviation Authority did not recognize the test report of the Kathmandu Medical College at Sinamangal saying that it would only recognize the rapid test conducted at the airport premises.
According to airport sources, Alpha, which has set up a lab at Pashupati Vision Tower in Gaushala, is conducting the test at a cost of Rs 2,100. According to the airport office, the UAE has given special permission to Air Arabia as it has an Air Arabia base in Sharjah. But Nepal Airlines Corporation, Himalaya Airlines and FlyDubai have not been able to carry passengers yet. Air Arabia has been operating flights from Nepal to Sharjah and Abu Dhabi.
According to sources, if Himalaya Airlines and NAC receive permission, other countries will also seek permission to fly which is why they have not been permitted. Even four days after the UAE's Civil Aviation Authority changed the method of testing, the body is still confused about what to do and what not to do.
Sources claim that there may be other reasons why Air Arabia was allowed to carry passengers even on the basis of the test report produced by a private lab whereas reports from government hospitals were denied. Elsewhere, the government hospital's report is considered more credible, but the UAE's Civil Aviation Authority did not seem to trust Nepal's government hospital, an airport official said.
A total of 150 Nepalis who arrived at the airport to fly to UAE on Monday were forced to return home at midnight due to lack of the same report. Although foreign airlines have started flying to the UAE, the NAC and Himalaya Airlines are waiting to see when the UAE government will enforce the usual rules and will allow operating flights.
According to an airport source who spoke on condition of anonymity, the airlines are waiting to see if this provision is removed soon as it will cost more than Rs 10 million to buy a rapid PCR test machine. National airlines, on the other hand, said that they are discussing in coordination with the Ministry of Health and are in the process of bringing the machine from India soon.
The device, which has a 10-minute report scan capability, is currently in use in India. The Nepali price of the device is Rs 400,000 to Rs 500,000. An airline needs to connect about 20 machines for testing.
Himalayan Airlines and NAC are flying to the UAE empty to pick up passengers after the UAE imposed a rule that Nepalis entering their country starting Monday should submit a negative PCR test report for COVID-19 carried out within 48 hours and a negative rapid PCR test at the airport within four hours before boarding.