POKHARA, July 26: Pokhara has always remained a lucrative destination for private airlines. They operate about a dozen flights to the lake city on a daily basis. But the same route has failed to attract Nepal Airlines Corporation (NAC).
It has been months since NAC suspended flights to Pokhara. It has no immediate plan for resuming fights.
Local tourism entrepreneurs say that the national flag carrier is not only losing business but also putting its identity at stake.
During peak tourist season, private airlines operate more than a dozen flights to Jomsom of Mustang from Pokhara on a daily basis. NAC hasn't operated flight on the route for the past one year. It has also stopped flight to Manang from Pokhara. NAC's decision has affected locals of Manang and Mustang, as private airlines either do not operate flights regularly or charge higher airfare.
“Earlier, we could fly to Manang from Pokhara even though the Humde airport was not blacktopped. Now the runway is blacktopped but airlines are not flying there,” Binod Gurung, a tourism entrepreneur of Manang, told Republica over telephone.
Though Manang has been connected to road network, transportation service is not reliable.
“Patients, elderly people and emergency services have been affected because of lack of flights,” added Gurung.
Locals of Manang have repeatedly requested airlines to resume flights to the airport, but to no avail.
“Now the runway built at the cost of millions of rupees has become useless,” rued Gurung.
Dil Gautam, president of Pokhara Chapter of Nepal Association of Tours and Travel Agents (NATTA), said NAC was losing its image by withdrawing flights to Pokhara. “Private airlines do not have suitable aircraft to fly to rural routes. NAC has planes, but it is not flying in these destinations,” he added.
Bijaya Basnet, chief of NAC's Pokhara Office, said they have not been able to operate flight to Pokhara as their aircraft is undergoing maintenance. “We had been deploying our Chinese aircraft on Pokhara sector. But it is undergoing repair now,” Basnet added. “We have not been able to Manang and Mustang as we have very few aircraft capable of flying in remote areas.”
Of the two Twin Otters in NAC's fleet, one is flying to destinations in Karnali zone while the other has been grounded.
“Private airlines are charging exorbitant fare in remote destinations like Jomsom,” he said, adding that operation of flights there by NAC could stabilize the price.