Preserving Pokhara’s Paragliding

Published On: December 15, 2022 07:45 AM NPT By: Republica  | @RepublicaNepal

Ever since its start in 1996, paragliding has been a popular aerial adventure sport in Pokhara, drawing both domestic and international tourists to the lake city. Over the years, the paragliding industry in the city has only grown and currently there are as many as five dozen paragliding companies operational in Pokhara. Though the competition is stiff, the industry is thriving locally, with significant contributions to Pokhara’s tourism sector. Everything was going well until the news of the newly-built Pokhara Regional International Airport (PRIA) coming into operation from January 1, 2023, which is just two weeks away. Earlier in June this year, the Civil Aviation Authority of Nepal (CAAN), the regulatory body of Nepal’s aviation sector, had asked paragliding entrepreneurs in Pokhara to shift the aerial adventure sport to another place from January 2023, arguing that paragliding and civil flights could not be conducted simultaneously in the same sky. Needless to say, this had left the entire paragliding industry in Pokhara concerned and hopeless. Though it is not yet certain as to what will happen to the paragliding business in Pokhara when the PRIA comes into operation from January 1, next year, there appears a thin silver lining around the dark clouds of chaos and confusion over the continuity of paragliding in Pokhara as, according to the entrepreneurs concerned, CAAN is mulling over allowing paragliding to continue in the skies of Pokhara, even it is for a few hours a day.    

This is good news. There suddenly appears an ounce of hope in a moment of total despair. The entrepreneurs have said that the CAAN is considering to continue paragliding activities in Pokhara for three hours every day, downsizing the scope of the business but not letting it die. However, everything will depend upon the aerial route for incoming civil flights to Pokhara. Currently, paragliders take off from Pokhara’s Sarangkot and land on the shores of Phewa lake. Toripani and Mandhredhunga, near Sarangkot, are also paragliding spots. Currently, paragliding flights are operated in Pokhara’s skies from 10 AM to 3:30 PM. However, now because of the international airport, it is obvious that paragliders cannot fly all day like now and at all paragliding spots in the valley.

It seems a lot will depend upon the flight procedure design for the aircraft approaching the airport. In the current flight procedure design, if the aircraft approaching the airport from the east could not make an 'approach', or in the case of flying from the west, after reaching the sky above Fewa Lake, the flight procedure was designed such that the aircraft turned right, leaving Sarangkot to its left. This would displace paragliding from the skies of Sarangkot, according to the entrepreneurs. However, after repeated requests, CAAN has agreed to explore a flight procedure design that could give continuity to both paragliding and civil flights to take place in the skies of Pokhara, if not from the current four-five spots then at least at a couple of spots. Paragliding entrepreneurs say the CAAN has designated 'air boxes' for paragliding in the skies above Sarangkot, Tori Pani, Mandredhunga and Tamagi in Pokhara. However, the authority has also said that it will not be able to allow flights from all those four boxes. There is no doubt that paragliding should not be continued at the cost of civil flights to and from PRIA. However, if changing the flight procedure design can give paragliding a chance to get continued in the skies of Pokhara, then that option should be explored. Paragliding is the jewel of tourism in Pokhara. Therefore, we expect all those concerned, including CAAN, to move ahead so as to give continuity to paragliding in Pokhara to the extent possible.

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