Nepal and Malaysia on Friday signed a revised bilateral air service agreement (ASA) increasing frequency up to 28 flights a week from the present 21, on a reciprocal basis. The move is aimed at boosting the number of air seats as the existing allocations for Malaysian-based airlines have been overwhelmed by a jump in demand.
The two countries had last amended the ASA on December 12, 2007, when they agreed to increase the number of direct flights to 21 from seven weekly.
Suresh Acharya, joint-secretary at the Tourism Ministry, and Periappan Chandrase-karan, under-secretary at the Aviation Division of Malays-ia’s Ministry of Transport, signed the agreement. Malaysia had asked Nepal to raise the frequency to 42 flights weekly. However, considering an increased frequency would affect the national flag carrier’s market share on the most lucrative sector, the Malaysian government’s request was not fulfilled, government official said.
The two sides also agreed to review the existing route schedule. As per the agreement, airlines of both countries can use any airports. Since new international airports are being developed in Nepal, Malaysian-based airlines will be allowed to pick the airport they want to link. The new accord has also permitted third-party code-sharing by domestic and international carriers of the two countries, said Pramod Nepal, under-secretary at the ministry. “Besides, the countries have agreed on mutual cooperation to promote tourism.” A number of issues such as joint tourism promotion, changes in route schedules and third party code-sharing will also be discussed during the negotiations.
Currently, Malaysia Airlines, Malindo Air and budget carrier Air Asia X link Kathmandu’s Tribhuvan International Airport. As the allocated frequency for Malaysian-based airlines had been consumed, the ministry had permitted them to operate seven additional flights under a temporary operating permit scheme. The scheme has ended with the agreement.
New entrant Malindo started daily scheduled flights between Kathmandu and Kuala Lumpur on February 6. Nepal’s national flag carrier Nepal Airlines currently serves the sector with a daily flight. Start-up Himalaya Airlines also plans to operate on the route.
According to Tribhuvan International Airport statistics, the growth of Malaysia Airlines and Air Asia has been exceptional. In the first six months of 2014, Malaysia Airlines flew 88,686 travellers, up 142.11 percent year-on-year, while Air Asia flew 105,888 passengers, up 86.46 percent.
Malaysia is the top recruiter of Nepali migrant workers. A rough estimate shows around 500,000 Nepalis are presently working in Malay-sia. According to the Depart-ment of Foreign Employment, 156,770 migrant workers left for Malaysia in 2012-13 against 98,367 in 2011-12.
Nepal has revised bilateral ASAs with four countries in the last two years. On April 2013, Nepal and the UAE signed an enhanced ASA permitting operation of 70 flights per week with any type of aircraft. The ASA with China was revised in February 2014 permitting the operation of 56 flights from 14 flights per week. The ASA with Bhutan was revised in May last year increasing the number of flights between the two countries three-fold to 21 per week with any type of aircraft.
The ministry plans to sign new ASAs with Australia, Iceland, Cambodia and Vietnam and revise the ASAs with Saudi Arabia and Pakistan.