POKHARA, Nov 25: The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) is preparing to bring the Pokhara Regional International Airport (PRIA) into operation from January 1, 2023. Accordingly, the calibration flight (mechanical test) is now being carried out. The airport will become operational after the calibration flight is carried out successfully and the test flights are completed.
Alongwith the preparations to bring PRIA into operation, private airlines have shown interest in international flights from this airport. Private airlines have said that they are making internal preparations for that. Private companies have now started preparations so that chartered and medical flights can be carried out without any delay.
Buddha Air has already announced direct flights from Pokhara to Varanasi, India. As the first international flight from PRIA, Buddha said that it has started Pokhara-Vanaras-Pokhara flights. Buddha plans to fly three days a week (Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday).
Apart from that, as the Government of Nepal is taking initiatives with the Government of India for a new Air Traffic Service (ATS) route, Buddha Air also said that as soon as the route and slots are approved by the Government of India, Pokhara-Delhi-Pokhara flights will be launched. Buddha has also prepared to fly Pokhara-Delhi-Pokhara twice a day and Pokhara-Dehradun-Pokhara three times a week.
Similarly, another private airline, Shree Airlines, is also preparing to start flights connecting Pokhara to India and Bangladesh. According to the corporate manager of the airline, Anil Manandhar, after PRIA comes into operation, preparations are being made to make 'medical flights' from Pokhara to any city in India. Now Shree is conducting medical flights from Kathmandu to various cities in India. Before Shree’s service started, the patients had to be flown by air ambulance from India to Kathmandu for treatment. However, after the service of Shree, air ambulance services from India have stopped.
“We also wanted to connect Pokhara to the Indian cities in terms of medical services. We are trying to free the patient from having to come to Kathmandu for treatment in any city in India," said Manandhar. "If medical services can be provided directly from Pokhara to the cities in India, the patients will get quick treatment."
He said that there is no obstacle to starting the medical flights for the time being. He also said that there will be a team of medical personnel on the medical flight. "It takes more time to get the air ambulance from India and take the patient. But it is faster to provide service from Pokhara," he said.
Apart from that, Manandhar said that during the season, chartered flights can be made from Pokhara to cities in India and Dhaka in Bangladesh.” There is a problem with air routes for regular flights. As soon as the route problem is resolved, direct flights to the Indian cities will start. However, the way will be opened for chartered flights," said Manandhar. "During the tourist season, chartered flights can be arranged from Pokhara to any city in India and Bangladesh. However, for that, the tourism entrepreneurs should also pay attention, and develop suitable packages accordingly.
He said that Shree Airlines can serve cities in India with an 80-seat capacity aircraft. However, he said that if the tourism businessmen of Pokhara make a package by bringing and sending tourists, then tourism will benefit due to chartered flights. According to him, after PRIA came into operation, at least the way of international flights has become easier. "Pokhara can benefit from the regional international airport in one way or another through chartered flights or medical flights," he said. Now Shree is operating two flights a day on the Pokhara-Kathmandu route. He said that Pokhara-Kathmandu flights will also be added after the regional international airport comes into operation.
Pom Narayan Shrestha, chairman of Pokhara Tourism Council, said that Pokhara will benefit from the international airport in any case. According to him, the announcement that private airlines will start flights after the airport is operational has sent a positive message to the tourism sector. "At least it will be easy to bring and send tourists from the Indian cities to Pokhara," he said. "The airport will immediately open its doors to bring Indian tourists to Pokhara."
According to him, now Pokhara's tourism sector depends on domestic and Indian tourists. Shrestha said that Pokhara's tourism sector, which is dependent on Indian tourists, can benefit more from the regional international airport when foreign tourists from other third countries are unable to come to Nepal due to the coronavirus infection.
"Pokhara can be connected to India through a direct flight in any form, such as chartered flights or medical flights," he said. The airlines are planning flights to Indian cities from Pokhara and that is expected to help tourism in Pokhara. At first, domestic airlines are preparing to start flights, and after some time, Indian airlines are also expected to be attracted to Pokhara.