BANKE, May 1: Mohammad Aayatulla Rahaman operates a travel agency near Rajha Airport of Nepalgunj. About six months ago, he was preparing to send 15 passengers to Humla by a Tara Air chartered plane. As his business was just getting started, he planned to give his clients a proper farewell with garlands and khada, the traditional ceremonial scarf. However, when the day for the flight arrived, his company could not fly the clients from Nepalgunj even though they had already paid the airline.
Rahaman’s understanding is that Nepalgunj airport is in the strong grip of the air transport mafia. “Service seekers can face lots of difficulties if they don’t go through an established committee. This has seriously hampered tourism. That is why I have decided to shut down my business,” he said .
According to Rahaman, the Nepalgunj chapter of CAAN is directly involved in the irregularities.
Nepalgunj airport handles flights to and from airports in Mugu, Humla, Dolpa, Jumla, Bajura and other districts. As Karnali Province is very rural, many people are forced to rely on air transport while travelling between Nepalgunj and Surkhet. However, irregularities in air transport have made it difficult for the general public to get air tickets even during emergency situations when sick patients need to be transported by air.
One individual working in the health sector in Dolpa said it is common for the sick in Karnali to die for lack of timely treatment because no air ticket is available.
“I bought an air ticket twice but the airline canceled my ticket and gave it to someone else on both occasions,” he said. “Air transport in the province is in the grip of the mafia and the authorities are keeping mum.”
However, Pratap Babu Tiwari, chief of CAAN Nepalgunj chapter, refuted the accusation. “Private airlines give priority to cargo in the hill districts because it is more profitable. We have now instructed them to fly charters only after completing the regular flights,” he said.
According to Krishna Prasad Gautam, CAAN deputy director and information officer at Nepalgunj, they have received complaints about the unavailability of air tickets and are taking steps to improve the situation. “We have instructed the airlines to prioritize the sick and helpless while selling their tickets,” he said.