POKHARA, Dec 30: Pokhara Regional International Airport (PRIA) is coming into operation from January 1, 2023. There are concerns everywhere about the future of paragliding in the sky of Pokhara once the newly-built airport comes into operation.
But there is good news, at least for now. The Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN) has now decided to allow paragliding in the Pokhara area with some conditions.
Although paragliding is allowed to operate in the skies around Pokhara, the authorities have decided to ban it in the skies of Sarangkot and Toripani. The beginning of paragliding flight was from Sarangkot almost two and a half decades ago.
Later, the skies of the nearby Toripani and Mandre Dhunga areas were also opened for paragliding. However, it will not be possible to fly from Sarangkot and Toripani now, according to the CAAN.
Tourism entrepreneurs were worried that Pokhara's paragliding would be displaced forever because of the international airport. They were of the opinion that under no circumstances should paragliding be displaced from Pokhara as the displacement of paragliding would cause a big blow to Pokhara's tourism sector.
Amid this concern of tourism entrepreneurs, the CAAN has decided to allow paragliding in Pokhara to fly in a certain area.
Gyanendra Bhul, information officer of CAAN, said that from the point of view of the security of the airspace, paragliding and balloons cannot be flown within 10 nautical miles (18.52 km) from the center of PRIA. He mentioned that paragliding and balloons are not allowed even within 5-5 nautical miles (9.26 km) of the air route. "As it is within 10 nautical miles from Pokhara International Airport, paragliding is not possible in the sky of Sarangkot," said Bhul.
Since paragliding is not allowed to operate in the skies of Sarangkot and Toripani, the CAAN has instructed the Nepal Air Sports Association (NAA), the umbrella organization of paragliding professionals, to recommend operation of paragliding in the air space of Mandredhunga or further west.
According to the CAAN, there is an airspace of approximately six km in width and 26 km in length within the Pokhara Valley. The distance from the west point of PRIA to the current airport is 2.5 km, 5 km to Phewatal and 6 km to the paragliding area. Currently, paragliding in Pokhara can only fly up to 7,000 feet in the sky of Sarangkot and Toripani and 6,000 feet in the sky of Mandre Dhunga.
Similarly, CAAN has said that paragliding is not allowed to operate in the sky that is currently used to flying it as there may be problems in departure (flying from the west) and miss approach (if there is a problem during landing from the east). Bhul said that NAA was instructed to find a new place as it had to operate paragliding only 10 nautical miles from the center of the airport and five nautical miles outside the air route.
According to him, even though PRIA will be operational from January 1, flights and landings will be conducted according to Visual Flight Rules (VFR) for the time being. For Instrument Flight Rule (IFR), it will take about a month. VFR takes off and lands from Pokhara's current airport. Ground visibility should be 5 km in VFR.
Under normal circumstances take-off and landing are conducted by VFR. According to this rule, visibility is required to be at least 5 km. The technology is used when taking off and landing from IFR. "For now, it is a VFR flight, but if there is a complaint of inconvenience due to paragliding while flying from IFR, then the paragliding operation will have a bigger problem," he said.