Trekking agents on receiving end of decision to shut TIA runway

Published On: February 27, 2019 09:03 AM NPT By: Arpana Ale Magar

KATHMANDU, Feb 27: Trekking entrepreneurs have said that the decision to close runway of Tribhuvan International Airport (TIA) from 10 pm to 8 am from April 1 will affect Nepal’s adventure tourism business. 

In a NOTAM issued to airline companies, Tribhuvan International Airport Civil Aviation Office (TIA CAO) said that the TIA runway will remain closed for 10 hours daily till June 30 for rehabilitation and expansion works. Airline operators have changed their flight schedule accordingly. As per the new schedule, flights to Lukla will take off from Ramechhap Airport. 

The decision is certain to increase cost of operation of trekking entrepreneurs, who generally accept bookings months ago, as it will incur extra costs. 

Chhatra Karki, managing director of Nepal Eco Adventure, said the decision means trekkers, mountaineers and support staff will have to take a road trip to Ramechhap, which takes some six hours, spend a night there, and fly to Lukla next morning.

Flights to Lukla are generally operated in the morning time. March-May is considered the peak season for climbing industry. “Long drive to and from Ramechhap before and after the trek is sure to bother trekkers,” Karki said, adding that trekkers might even cancel or postpone their trips. “Also, Manthali – the district headquarters of Ramechhap – lacks sufficient accommodation facilities.”

Arjun Rijal from Outfitter Nepal Treks & Expedition said his company has confirmed bookings of about 60 trekkers flying to Lukla during April to May. “They are not going to pay even a penny more. We have to pay for additional services – drive to Ramechhap and back, and accommodation in Manthali – from our pocket,” he added.

According to Rijal, airlines companies have already notified them about the change in their flight schedule. Some airlines have asked trekking entrepreneurs to get refund of their bookings. They, however, have not opened booking for Ramechhap-Lukla flight. 

“Airlines companies have informed us that they will either manage our flight from Ramechhap or give us a refund. We have only about a month to redesign our itinerary,” Rijal added.

Another trekking entrepreneur, Gopal Shrestha of Higher Limits Trek & Expeditions, said flights from Ramechhap would help to avoid traffic congestion at TIA. “But it would be very difficult to manage trekkers if flights to and from Ramechhap are affected due to any reason,” he said, urging the government to come up with Plan B at the earliest.

“The decision will affect trekking plan for trekkers and mountaineers, as well as our business,” Shrestha said.

Meanwhile, Navaraj Dahal, president of Trekking Agencies’ Association of Nepal (TAAN), said his association has not been notified about the decision yet. “Shutting runway in the peak tourist season is not a wise move. As both the airport and trekking agents depend on same tourist traffic for business, one’s activity should not affect business of others,” he added.

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